Benefits of a Gap Year


The advantages of a Gap Year–a visual representation.

A gap year is beneficial for students transitioning from high school to college because it better prepares them to succeed in higher education and beyond.

For students graduating from high school, taking a year off before attending college presents an opportunity to refresh and revive before officially entering into university life. During this time, students discover what is important to them, which will assist to intensify their focus on their educational path of choice. Top universities and many cultures around the world fully recognize the relevance of a gap year, and regard those who have taken them as ‘well structured’ with a good sense of direction and maturity (White 7). Taking a year off forces students to gain confidence and take responsibility for themselves and their future in ways that cannot be learned in a classroom.

Although the concept of a gap year is still quite foreign in the United States, the prominent view shared by many countries around the world is that taking time off is constructive and often in the best interest of the student. According to studies by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation Research, more than 50 percent of students from Turkey, Denmark and Norway take a year off before attending college (American Gap Association, 2012). In the UK, over 30,000 secondary students apply for a university course but then defer in favor of a gap year, which is not counting those who choose to apply to university during or after their year off (Bridging a Gap, 2012).

These countries have recognized the benefits of a gap year, and so have many top universities. Among supporters, Harvard is and has been a long-time proponent of taking time off before college. In fact it is written in plain sight, to the lucky few who receive their coveted letter of admission, that deferring a year before attending is highly recommended (White 22). Princeton also jumps on the bandwagon, offering up to 10 percent of their incoming freshmen class a fully funded international volunteer experience, calling it a “Precollegiate enrichment year.” (White 22)

People in the field of education feel excited as the concept of a gap year grows in popularity. Many regard it as the beginning of a movement in education that values experiential learning, global awareness, environmentalism, and a concern for others throughout the world (White 2). Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Admissons at Duke University, praises the idea of a gap year, calling it a “terrific idea.” Jennifer Delahunty, Dean at Kenyon College, presses on the newly found “verve and excitement for learning” students have upon returning to school that can be lost after so many years of forced academia. Charles Monahan–a gap year student–elaborates, “During high school I wasn’t dreaming. I didn’t have many projects going on. I was just all about school. When people asked me what I wanted to do for a career someday, I never could answer them” (White 14).

Like Monahan, most teenagers today report having “little confidence in their ability to make an independent decision,” and say they rarely do anything without input from their parents (White 18). Without the tools to develop self-assurance, the last years of high school leave many students feeling lost and overwhelmed. Instead of jumping into college full of insecurities, taking a gap year allows young adults to refresh and recharge before entering back into the school system. High school students have a lot on their plate as they contemplate the idea of college and beyond. Students are integrated in a constant flow of academia, and many question whether a straight shot through school is the best path to take. A member of the academic team at Harvard asserts, “Let us hope that more of [current high school students] will take some sort of time off before burnout becomes the hallmark of their generation” (White 22).

For Kelsey Phinney, taking a gap year helped boost both her energy and maturity level, making a huge difference in terms of her confidence and preparation for college. She adds that her time abroad helps her gain a deeper understanding for the material learned in the classroom setting, and encourages her to widen her lens of the world to consider many different points of view.

Like Phinney, Whitney Roth, a student at the University of Vermont also attributes her confidence in herself to her time spent abroad, saying, “It gave me a sense of who and what I would like to see myself become” adding, “Had I gone to college straight out of high school I would not have known what to do with my newfound freedom” (White 13).

Safe to say, there are plenty of testimonials in support of the positive changes within an individual that a gap year brings. Top universities in the country stand behind and  encourage their scholars to take time off before attending school, and a handful of countries accept gap years as a commonality. Professors and Deans openly admit that students who take a year off not only come back to school with a new sense of love for learning, but are some of the top performers in the classroom setting (White 31). When students have the opportunity to recollect themselves and set aside the stresses of school to discover themselves and the world they live in, it will inevitably make them more successful, educated adults. From all the successes, it should be an obvious cue to any in doubt, that a gap year is in-fact beneficial for students.

Image: TopUniversities

“Benefits of a Volunteering Gap Year” TopUniversities. Quacquarelli Symonds Limited, 28 Feb 2013 Web. 23 Nov. 2013.


Research National Centre for Vocational Education, et al. “Bridging The Gap: Who Takes A Gap Year And Why? Longitudinal Surveys Of Australian Youth. Research Report.” National Centre For Vocational Education Research (NCVER) (2012): ERIC. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.

White, Kristin. The Complete Guide to a Gap Year: the Best Things to Do Between High School and College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

American Gap Year Association. American Gap Association, 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.


Thinking Beyond Borders. “Kelsey Phinney—Thinking Beyond Borders.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 3 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.


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One comment

  1. Awesome article! I graduate high school this spring and I was thinking of deferring for a year before heading to UMASS Boston..about to show this video to my mom so she can get on board too 🙂

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