An Argument in Favor of Taking a Gap Year between High School and College

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2023
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Year after year hundreds of thousands of high school students are taught the same routine to Pomp and Circumstance: walk up, shake, accept, turn and smile, and continue on their way. Seniors look out at their classmates whom for many will be the last time they see one another. In a mere two months they will pack up their lives and begin what they are told is the next chapter of their lives. Most high school students have not realized it yet, but that single decision about what college they are attending is one that will shape the path for the rest of their lives.

However, how informed of a decision are they making? Are they truly taking the time to weigh all of their options? Are they thinking about the rest of their lives when they are on senior trip, or at senior prom and are forced to make a decision amidst all these activities? Yet there are other options; students could take more time to think about the rest of their lives by taking a gap year.

During the transition from high school to college taking a gap year allows students to find themselves and think about their intended major before committing to a large university for it, gives them the opportunity to relieve the continual stress from high school before gaining extra stress from college while still growing intellectually, and allows students to gain work experience and explore various careers in a hands on manner.

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Universities are ever increasingly wanting to grow the perspective and well being of the student attending their university. After all, the students upon graduation are a representation of the university, all that it stands for, and its abilities to produce well rounded individuals of society. This is why colleges such as Princeton and many others around the world are taking it upon themselves to create programs that encourage the gap year. In an effort to "encourage an international perspective and commitment to public service among its students" Princeton University launched a volunteer based gap year option free of charge to the student in 2009 (O'Shea 566).

As one of the ten Ivy League Universities Princeton students are expected to be among some of the best of the best. Therefore, it is not surprising that they would be one of the leading pioneers in implementing such a program here in the United States.

While this phenomenon may be new here in the United States it has long since existed in other parts of the world. For more than forty years organizations have existed in Europe that are specifically developed for placing students in a gap year volunteer program. One such program is based on a Scottish Isle and since its inception in 1967 has placed more than 6000 students in a twelve month gap year experience (O'Shea 577). Both these historic programs worldwide and those that are continually being developed here in the United States have continued to see increased success rates among their participants.

This high success rate can be attributed to the growth of the individual on a personal level; something all aspects of life are dependent on. The gap year is unique in that it is a form of life planning and a tool by which students can build a sense of self and who they are (King 344).

Year after year data and studies have shown a large increase in the number of students deferring entering college around the world. In the country of Australia alone the number of students taking a gap year has nearly tripled in a thirty year period between 1974 and 2004 rising from 4 percent to 11 percent (Martin 561). Every year in the UK there are a quarter of a million students who visit more than two hundred different countries around the world during their "right of passage" (O'Shea 566). There is a lot of speculation as to why there has been a sudden increase in recent years.

Although, the most likely likely or the one that is most widely accepted reasons is that pre-college students are at a pivotal moment in their lives. Research suggests that during this time they experience severe uncertainty about their identities and all of the changes surrounding the transition from formal schooling to university overly stresses the students (King 341). However, if one were to remove the stresses associated with university schooling adolescent students would be able to better focus on their identity insecurities.

In first going off to college a student undergoes a lot of change in their life all at the same time and does so within a short time frame. They have to adjust to living on their own and becoming self sufficient, they have to come to terms with the separation from friends and family members all while under the pressure to perform well in their classes. Gap years provide the unique opportunity for students to adjust to these changes without the added pressure of getting good grades. It is almost like going to school and not having the grades count. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to "break from the educational bubble" and to escape from their "sheltered life" (O'Shea 568).

They are able to cope with the loss of their family and friends from their every day lives as well as learning what it takes to support and sustain their lives. They can use this time to cope with those losses and any other family problems or mental health issues that may exist (O'Shea 568). It is a very beneficial time for students to freely grow into who they are with minimal influence. This time away for students is their pursuit of a means by which to "developing implementation intentions and specific goals" for the rest of their lives (Martin 562). That way, by the time they arrive at college on move in day that has already been accomplished and the only thing left to focus on is the schooling.

Many will argue that a gap year is not an environment of similar stature when compared to that of a college institution. There may not be written exams, essays, or term papers (along with the stress that comes with all of the above) yet that does not mean that there is a loss in education. Studies have shown that despite being outside of the classroom setting students have still displayed skills growth in "developing competence, managing emotions, moving through autonomy toward independence, developing mature interpersonal relationships, establishing identity, and developing purpose and integrity" (O'Shea 575).

These are skills being taught through the experiences students have during their gap year that no college professor can teach. Having these skills developed before entering collegiate level courses allows them to better focus on their courses having matured in the areas of living on their own that accompany all students transitioning form high school to college. Gap years are viewed as a way for individuals to take time to themselves and through that time develop "an edge" over other students both for college, and future careers (King 343). In the competitive job market of today where a degree simply is not enough, these edges are what will secure job placements.

Although there are many edges that will take a student and make them stand out from the rest of their peers, one of the most influential is experience. When entering the work force for the first time directly after college, employers are looking for potential employees who have knowledge that extends beyond the classroom and beyond textbooks. While many things may work well in a textbook, or in theory, when applied to the real world they fall apart instantly. One of the most popular ways to spend a gap year is to go abroad and do volunteer work. Students will travel around the world to engage in one-on-one volunteering programs.

Living abroad in these programs provides students the unique opportunity to gain a multi-cultural education and to develop a personal and emotional connection to humanity (O'Shea 574). These opportunities formulate into a person who is well rounded with a breadth of knowledge and hands on experience while having a deep understanding of the world as a whole; something no book can teach. Students learn how to depend upon one another to work together as one community and to rely on others during times of need (O'Shea 571). Transferred over to the workforce this translates into understanding the importance of working together as a team in a firm which is one of the most critical skills an employee can have.

When applying for jobs and preparing a resume the addition of a gap year appears in golden lettering to employers. It often leads interviews down different paths as they are interested to hear about their experiences and what they have since gained from them. The stories and experiences that are delineated to employers helps them to see how the graduates are now distinguished "from their past self and from others in current and future contexts” (King 353). While it may be true that some employers do not wish to hear a continuous loop of volunteer stories the vast majority to not look so lightly upon the experience that is gained from them.

In addition to the hands on experiences these job candidates display the types of volunteer work they were engaged in say a lot about the character of the individual. In the eyes of most businesses and corporations "a year out shows independence, strength of character and the ability to plan ahead" (Griffin 855). At the end of the day the candidate that they are looking to add to their team will be the one who has the most to bring to the table and a gap year is the perfect way to ensure the bag is full.

Over the years as colleges and universities have evolved and the material taught has expanded so have the expectations of what a gap year should provide to the student. The original idea of this experience grew out of an evident necessity at the end of World War II. The belief is that "increased interaction among youth of different countries would improve cultural understandings and increase compassion" (Griffin 853). Through these increased cultural understandings and compassion toward other human beings of different ethnicities and cultures the hope was to produce a better society. This new society would have members who were above the infancy social stigmas over which one of the most devastating and deadly wars in human history was fought.

There are many that argue against the idea of a gap year and claim that it does more harm than it does good. Some have ascertained that a gap year "distracts young people from a linear transition between high school and further education" (Martin 561). There has been very little evidence to prove this argument holds water. In fact, studies have shown the exact opposite. Conclusions point to higher motivation among students who have taken a one year gap when entering college as opposed to those who transitioned in directly from high school (Martin 563). It is believed that between six and eight years after high school graduation students who took time off before entering college had a substantially lower degree attainment rate (Niu and Tienda 2).

The correlation made between gap years and lower degree attainment are circumstantial. There has been no evidence to show that it is the gap year directly that causes the lower degree attainment. It is reliant on other factors such as race, gender, family background, previous academic performance, etc. The largest contributing factor to the proposed correlation is previous academic performance followed by family background (Martin 565). To some the idea of a gap year is more detrimental than it is beneficial. While that may be true in some cases based on family background and previous academic performance, the supermajority of students who engage in the year of self exploration and growth reap benefits in multiple aspects of life and across various disciplines.

One other such factor in the lower attainment of college degrees among students is their expectations of college. There is a large correlation between the various lengths of their delays. Typically students will either delay their enrollment by one semester or 3 plus years whereas those who take one year are more likely to take a second semester (Niu and Tienda 10). Out of these two groups of students 80% of the first expected a college degree while 77% of the later expected to attain a college degree (Niu and Tienda 10). This implies that there is no connection between the length of a student's gap year and their degree attainment as proposed by opponents of the gap year. The nearly consistent degree attainment level is an indicator of the level of dedication to education by those students.

Despite the proposed negative impacts that some claim comes from a gap year in regards to schooling, nothing could be farther from the truth. In addition to the higher motivation levels that are reaped by the students that take a gap year, they also see benefits inside of the classroom.

One definitive factor that has been used to measure this is SAT scores. Students who have taken a gap year have SAT scores that are on average three percent higher. The average score for those who did not take the gap year was 890 compared to a score of 912 attained by those who took a gap year (Niu and Tienda 16).

Another measurable area in which success of a gap year can be determined is through AP courses. Students who delayed their enrollment by one year were able to do better than all other students on their AP scores (Niu and Tienda 17). Passing these types of courses are strong indicators of future performance among these students in college. Earning passing scores on these exams also allow for them to not have to take these courses again in college. This allows for flexibility within their schedules. It also provides them the unique opportunity to take their gap year and still complete college on time with classmates who did not take the gap year.

Today there is no such thing as the “normal” within society. There are no rules dictating that one has to follow a certain path simply because that is the way it has always been done. As society progresses further and further into the twenty-first century there is growing acceptance of straying from the path of others to create your own. In upcoming years the number of participants of these programs will continue to expand and grow exponentially around the world.

With a large scope of benefits provided by a gap year, more and more students around the world will become enlightened to those benefits of opting for this non-traditional form of a Freshman year of college. The number of colleges and universities in the United States that offer a deferment year program will grow as students begin to demand this alternative option. Despite the naysayers, these students are reaping rewards throughout their entire lives and are the ones who will be the CEOS of tomorrow.

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An Argument in Favor of Taking a Gap Year between High School and College. (2023, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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