What are the benefits of a gap year?

By Maxine Seya

What are the benefits of a gap year?

– Jean, a counselor

Though not very popular, gap years have been solid options for college-bound seniors long before the coronavirus hit. Gap years or gap semesters have made a bit of a comeback, now that families are unsure when college campuses will re-open.

Some parents don’t want to pay tuition for online courses and many can’t stomach the thought of sending their kids off to a crowded college campus, teeming with eager young people — but also probably germs.

The coast doesn’t feel quite clear yet. As families and seniors consider what to do next, many are mulling over the idea of taking a year off from school to explore something else — a gap year.

It’s common to see students travel, start businesses, volunteer, find employment, pursue creative or artistic endeavors, or even learn a new skill during their gap year. Many students without a plan for their gap year actually choose to defer enrollment into college because they’re burnt-out from high school academic stress.

Think of it as a way to “recover” and “rediscover” yourself before diving back into a fast-paced, sometimes stressful work and social environment that is college.

While many students choose to take a gap year between senior year of high school and freshman year of college or between undergrad and grad school, I chose to take a gap year between freshman and sophomore year of college.

After feeling busy for the majority of my life — ever since dance conservatory started taking up 5 days a week at the age of 9 — I finally realized I’d been following directions my whole life. I wasn’t sure why I was even in college, studying communications, and getting a degree — except that it sounded fun and allowed me to move out of my parents’ house.

Here are some benefits I noticed from taking a gap year between my first and second years of college:

I defined my limits. I started freshman year at Northwestern the way I ended senior year of high school: packed with activities. I didn’t know how else to do it. I was curious, energetic, and active. My schedule was chockablock with 6 classes when a full time schedule only required 3. After class, I was running off to rugby practice, triathlon, French club, and Skyping my long distance boyfriend. I felt stressed and it was my own fault.

After a year off, I returned with firmness on my personal limits. While I was once comfortable saying “yes” to every opportunity, as an “older” sophomore, I knew that focusing required me to protect my free time and brain space. Not so that I could be lazy, but so that I could actually recover from daily pressures, process my growth, and reflect on what’s working and what’s not. To respect the limits I set to protect my personal space, for the rest of college, I registered for only 3-4 classes, resigned from my executive board club position, and let myself wander the library stacks without feeling guilty for “wasting time.”

I found an intention. I knew I enjoyed learning about communication, persuasion, and argumentation. It was the perfect major, but I didn’t know what it was all for. College in peaceful Evanston was equally enjoyable and pleasant, but I didn’t know why I even needed to be there. Before my gap year, I felt resigned that life must continue and I’d probably wake up with a degree in my hand before I even realized what for.

Hi there.

No one spotlights the human stories of college admissions like we do.

But we're independent journalists who need support from readers like you.

Your subscription keeps us going -- completely ad-free.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.