Ask the Experts

Going Gap

My parents and I strongly disagree about my taking a gap year. Shouldn’t I be able to make my own decision?

When you ask your parents what you should do with your life, you reveal the answer. You do not have the self-confidence and maturity to make your own decisions. College propels you into the real world and requires you begin to making choices. If you are unsure, perhaps that is exactly the reason why you need a gap year.

Traditionally gap years were taken after high school and before college but a recent trend has seen students taking them during college years. Many have little direction regarding life and careers when just out of school, so they usually abide parent or community pressures and go straight into further education. This can leave you feeling burnt out and overwhelmed, so taking a gap year may not be a bad idea after all. Plenty of suggestions as to what to do can be found on the American Gap Association but we will also look at a few here.

A year out of studies can be worthwhile only if you use it constructively. Most students go travelling and there is nothing better to broaden the mind and your experience. If budgets are a concern, you can work while you are on the road. There are plenty of temporary jobs out there or you can volunteer in exchange for food and lodging. Either way, you will meet new people, expand your horizons, and gain vital life experiences.

Doing national or community service is another way to occupy some of your year out. Volunteer work always goes down well on your resume, it shows your humanitarian side and big corporations appreciate that. You may be able to earn some credits or eligibility for scholarships and financial aid by working with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Taking a break from college often improves your performance when you return, giving you time to reassess your priorities and goals. Jumping straight in after high school can just pile on more pressures and stress before you are ready to handle it.

As with any decision, there are always two sides to the argument. You may not want to return to college after being away for a year, because your momentum for studying will diminish. If your gap year is in the middle of your college program, you will need to do some interim study to retain important information related to your degree. Restarting classes will not be easy if you have treated your year off like a vacation. Your classmates will all be younger too, if they have followed the traditional route into college. The number of students taking a gap year is hard to research. One figure compiled from moving statistics is that over 1/3 of freshmen do not return to the same institution, reports NewCity Movers.

Students on scholarship typically have to reapply, with no guarantee of acceptance. The risk is often small, since if you were accepted once, you are likely to be accepted again, reports PromoCodeWatch Scholarship.

There is the possibility of accumulating more debt if you end up volunteering abroad or trekking around exotic locations. Make sure your finances can support extended travelling.

Even Harvard University now actively encourages gap years, as they have seen more well-rounded students returning to complete their studies.

Whenever I’m taking time off, all I’m thinking about is working… Scarlett Johansson.

Martin J. Young is a former correspondent of Asia Times.