Have you received your college acceptance letter but aren’t sure what to do next? Consider taking a gap year.
Gap years are common in many countries abroad. But the idea has only recently gained steam in the US. Studies have found 30,000 to 40,000 students participate in a gap year program, and 1.2% of incoming freshman will defer their college acceptance to work, volunteer or travel before diving into academic life, according to a 2015 survey from the American Gap Association.
While some people may view a gap year as an extended vacation, or a distraction from starting a traditional college career, there are many benefits to taking time to carefully consider your academic future and explore other opportunities. US colleges have been taking notice, and some have policies in place for students who want to defer admission. Even the former first family is on board with the idea – Malia Obama is currently taking a gap year before starting Harvard in the fall of 2017.
So what are the benefits of a gap year?
#1: You’ll do better academically when you get to college
The top two reasons students cite for taking a gap year are burnout from the competitive pressure of high school and a desire “to find out more about themselves,” according to the American Gap Association (AGA).
Applying to college is stressful. Taking the time for a reset before the rigors of college life is beneficial both during and after the gap year. According to the AGA, students who take a gap year have higher GPAs. They’re also more likely to finish all four years of college than students who begin college immediately.
#2: You can figure out what you want to study
Choosing a major and an eventual career path is a huge source of stress and pressure for college students. But 60% of gap year participants said the experience helped them choose their major and influenced their future career path.
Use your gap year to explore your interests. See if it’s something you can picture yourself doing long term. Experimenting without the ticking clock of choosing a major could help you make a better – and more informed – choice.
#3: You’ll build your resume
Gap years can include anything from getting an internship in a field you may be interested in, to volunteering abroad, to traveling and learning a new language. Adding this experience before you even start college could help you build a foundation for your resume. According to the AGA, 84% of participants said their gap year helped them gain useful career skills.
#4: You’ll be happier at your future job
Once you graduate college and head into the “real world,” all the good stuff you got out of your gap year doesn’t end. Three-quarters of gap year participants said they were “extremely satisfied” with their careers post-college. 88% said a gap year made them more attractive to employers.
If you’re interested in taking a gap year, apply to college and then defer admission for a year. Many colleges encourage students to take time off; Harvard, for instance, suggests prospective students consider a gap year when they send out acceptance letters.
There are many gap year programs available if you’re interested in a program with more structure than you would have if you travelled or worked on your own. Some colleges have programs for prospective students: for example, Princeton University has a “Bridge Year” program that focuses on international community service.
So do your research and remember, not every path to college will be the same for everyone. Consider your options, and decide if a gap year could be beneficial to you in the long run.