Over the past two years, an increasing number of our students have decided to hit pause on their college plans. The pandemic forced most universities in North America and Europe to switch to virtual learning models through 2020, and even after the much-celebrated return to in-person learning in 2021, continued to drastically limit back the availability and scale of activities on their campuses. With the “traditional college experience” all but lost to the pandemic, many students chose to take gap years or semesters to wait for a sense of normalcy to return. In the UK one in five university applicants changed their mind about university attendance for the 2020 academic year, often by deferring a place in favor of a year off.
A survey conducted in April 2020 by Baltimore-based consulting firm Art & Science Group
found that 17% of students in the US had changed their college plans due to Covid-19.

But as it turns out, you don’t need a global pandemic to consider a gap year. It has been a fairly common practice amongst many European, Australians and, more recently, North American students, even before Covid-19 turned higher education on its head. Contrary to what it may sound like, it isn’t simply a year to rest and relax away from academic pressures. It is a year of exploration.

So what is a gap year? It is a year-long break from formal education, most commonly taken between high school and college, but can be taken at any time (including between college years and after college.) Some students opt for a shorter break, taking a gap semester instead. It is typical for people opting for a gap year or semester to use this time to travel, volunteer, intern, or work before returning to their education.

A gap year can help shape a student’s mind and prepare them for the university experience. Studies show there are a lot of positives that can come out of taking a year away from academics. Here are 6 reasons why you should consider a gap year before starting college:

  1. A gap year is a time-out to “pause and reflect” on what you would like to do in your academic future and, eventually, your career.
  2. A gap year can re-energize and re-motivate you after 13 to 14 years of possibly exhausting, continuous academics. Furthermore, it has the potential to shape and animate your college experience, taking you in new, previously unconsidered directions.
  3. Whether you choose to work, take on internships in your fields of interest, travel or volunteer, a gap year gives you the opportunity to dabble in real world experiences. The result is that you may either realize exactly what field you would like to study, or you may rule it out completely.
  4. “According to a 2015 alumni survey conducted by the Gap Year Association and Temple University, people who took a gap year on average said the time off helped them develop as a person and acquire skills to be successful in their careers.”
  5. In this increasingly global environment, a gap year can give you a greater understanding of other cultures and help shape you as a global citizen.
  6. Deferring enrollment for a year may also lead to higher grades later on. According to a study of GPA results by Robert Clagett, the former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, undergraduates who had taken a gap year on average outperformed those who did not by 0.1 to 0.4 on a 4.0 scale.

For further information, here are some recommended resources to help you understand the options available:

https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/careers-advice/advice-on-a-gap-year
https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/why-gap-years-more-common-in-europe-us
https://www.gapyearassociation.org/