Posted: July 19, 2016
I remember clearly back to 2008, about to graduate from high school, all of the seniors crammed into the auditorium listening to ideas of what we could do next with our lives. We were bombarded with talk of college options, possible career paths, and then a mumbled mention of something called a gap year (a term much more commonly used in the U.K).
A gap year refers to the “period, typically an academic year, taken by a student as a break between secondary school and higher education.”
Eight years ago I brushed off the idea of a gap year as a cop out option, better suited for students with little direction or low expectations for themselves. I was a high achiever, why would I even consider taking a whole year to step away from my studies in order to travel and explore the world?
In the United States the term ‘gap year’ has only recently started to catch on. In fact it is just in the last decade that Harvard University has seen a 33% increase in the number of accepted students who are taking gap years. Clearly demonstrating that the concept has grown as has its validity. Admissions counselors, parents, and students themselves are starting to recognize the ways in which taking a year out of studying can drastically benefit individuals.
Post college I jumped into a world of travel and instantly regretted not having gone abroad sooner. The rewards that greeted me were overwhelming, the personal growth dizzying, and the perspective that I gained invaluable.
A study conducted by the dean of Middlebury College recently found that students who took gap years tend to outperform academic projections based on their high school grades.
Students experience less academic burn out, are more invested in what they are studying from the start, and are more socially confident. All factors that contribute to greater classroom success.
Further Reading: All About Service Learning for High School Students
We all make friends in college that last a lifetime, but it’s also true that we tend to stick to what’s comfortable. People with similar backgrounds, interests, and general world views.
There is nothing wrong with this. However, travel teaches you how to better relate to people from across cultures and with quite different outlooks on life and the world.
Learning how to see similarities over differences creates for enriching social interactions that will help open your eyes to different perspectives.
Taking a gap year during your critical teenage years does wonders for your self-development.
Already knowing that you can thrive outside of your comfort zone makes college a lot less daunting.
This won’t be the first time that you have been on your own, the first time that you have taken on challenging situations, the first time that you have had to take care of yourself. You will be well versed in the ways of the world, ready to attack the college experience!
When it comes to education real world connection is key. Reading about economic disparities and seeing them first hand are two entirely different ways of understanding our world.
For years educators have stressed the importance of connecting classroom learning to real world experiences. As academic philosopher John Dewey originally stated, “there is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education.” Gap years are an excellent way to help facilitate this connection.
Further Reading: Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey, and Service Learning
Traveling opened my eyes up to aspects of myself that I had not previously explored. I started writing, practicing yoga and meditation, dancing salsa, and started to get my balance up on a surf board.
As Harvard Universities admissions office states, “time out can promote discovery of one’s own passions,” and as we all know when we care about what we are involved in we more fully dedicate ourselves to the pursuit.
With the wealth of knowledge now surrounding the benefits of taking a gap year it’s hard to deny the positive impacts that it has. I don’t regret the scorpion that I ate in Thailand, the time I took a 40 hour long bus ride down the coast of Chile, or the obscene amount of tacos that I bought in Mexico. Taking a gap year though? That’s a decision I wish I could go back and make again!
Convinced that a gap year is the right next step for you? Start planning your year away! Check out GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering opportunities for your gap year.