Niche Resources
Niche Resources
Niche Resources

Why a Gap Year Is the Best Bad Idea You Ever Had

Three years ago my daughter decided to take a gap year before college, and judging from the reaction from friends, family and college counselors you would have thought she announced she was running off to join the circus.

Everyone was trying to tell us what a bad idea delaying college was. “So she’s going to sit around on the couch for year?” was the phrase I heard most often. Some backed off a little when I mentioned that Malia Obama had also decided to take a gap year at the very same time as my daughter. I guess it helps if the 44th President of the United States thinks it’s okay for his kid to take a year off.

All we knew was that our girl was exhausted from going to school for 12 years straight and wanted some time to breathe and to explore some other options. She’d been accepted to some top schools but wasn’t quite ready to say an enthusiastic yes to any of them.

So, we laid out one simple ground rule: She had to be productive – either by taking some classes or getting a job — but otherwise we wanted the time off to be her own.

To be honest, I had no idea what the upcoming year would bring. What if the naysayers were right, and we had to pry her off the couch at the end of 12 months? What if she did decide she didn’t want to go back to school, and really did run off to join the circus? (I swear all these things went through my mind.)

Fast forward three years, and she – and we – feel like it was the best decision she could have made.

During her gap year she got a much-sought after internship for a media company, which turned into a full-time job that has continued to be a source of freelance work for her. It also looked great on her resumé, which led to a couple of coveted positions at the college she’s now attending (yes, defying the naysayers, after taking that year off she did enroll in a four-year university and is in her second year.) Most valuable of all, she made some strong connections in her industry that have promised her employment when she graduates. And in reality, she hardly sat on the couch that year at all.

According to recent statistics, the number of American kids taking a gap year has been rising for the past decade, sometimes by 30% a year. (And it appears that Malia Obama’s decision to follow that path has contributed to its increasing popularity; Ethan Knight, the executive director of the American Gap Association told NPR their website traffic saw 2,600 times the amount of their normal traffic after Malia made her decision.)

But don’t take my (or the former First Daughter’s) word for it – here are some reasons a gap year might be a good fit for your child.

Taking a break can broaden your child’s horizons and lead to more creativity.

A gap year could be a chance for your child to explore interests or activities they may not have had the time for while in the confines of a school schedule. While they have traditionally been against delaying college, many educators are starting to encourage taking a gap year, saying that those who choose to work, travel, volunteer or seek out other pursuits are more mature and engaged once they do enroll in college.

Robert Clagett – the former senior admissions officer at Harvard who is now the director of college counseling at a college prep school in Austin, Texas – tells Time that a gap year could be a valuable time for kids to find out what they want to do, as opposed to what they’re supposed to be doing. Instead of asking, “How will this look on my college application?” he says it’s a chance “to just do something for the pure love of doing it.”

Everyone deserves a breather after 12 straight years of school.

Even Ivy League schools realize that kids sometimes rush into college. In an article on their website titled, “Time Out Or Burn Out For The Next Generation,” Harvard administrators warn against the pressures that many kids feel to fast-track it into college and tout the benefits of taking a gap year.

“Perhaps the best way of all to get the full benefit of a ‘time-off’ is to postpone entrance to college for a year,” it says. “For more than four decades, Harvard has recommended this option, indeed proposing it in the letter of admission. Now more than one hundred students defer college until the next year.

“The results have been uniformly positive … students who had taken a year off found the experience ‘so valuable that they would advise all Harvard students to consider it.’ Harvard’s overall graduation rate of 97% is among the highest in the nation, perhaps in part because so many students take time off.”

It will give your child time to decide what course of study they’d really like to pursue.

In his book, There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow, author Jeffrey Selingo encourages parents and their kids to consider taking a gap year, saying it can help students to understand the reason they’re going to college, and to figure out what they want once they get there.

“We shouldn’t rush this transition,” he tells the New York Times. “We are rushing too many kids off to college who aren’t ready or don’t know why they’re there.”

It could be a good financial decision

Believe it or not, a gap year might just save you some money. Many colleges – Princeton and the University of North Carolina, among them — have scholarships and fellowships available exclusively for incoming freshmen who take a gap year.

Also, waiting 12 months could give your family the chance to reassess financial responsibilities and set a realistic budget, without caving to the pressure of the financial aid counselors who are pushing loans at every turn.

Pointing out that fewer than 20 percent of students graduate in four years, and many take six years or never finish at all, Selingo says that a gap year “might be money saved later if students are more directed when they eventually go to college.”

The Bottom Line

In the end, to take a gap year or not is an important decision that you and your child make, regardless of what the statistics show or what the experts – and your loved ones – advise. Either way, we could all benefit by echoing the words of Robert Clagett where he advises young people to take this time to examine their lives and “to just do something for the pure love of doing it.” That sounds like good advice for school – and life.

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Author: Marsha Takeda-Morrison

Marsha Takeda-Morrison lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters. In her former life she was an art director, but began writing 12 years ago chronicling her family’s life on her personal blog, Sweatpantsmom. She went on to write for Babble, Yahoo!, Genlux Magazine, Cool Mom Picks and Mom.me. She frequently covers pop culture and has interviewed the likes of Paris Hilton, Jessica Alba, Kim Kardashian and Mila Kunis. While she spends a lot of time in Hollywood she has never had plastic surgery, given birth to an actor’s child, or been on a reality show. Yet.