Is a gap year between high school and college a good idea? Harvard seems to think so.
Of all the pronouncements coming out of Barack Obama’s White House the past seven years, the news from early spring shook up many Americans.
Malia Obama, the President’s oldest daughter, is going to attend Harvard University. But she will not go in next academic year following her senior year in high school. Instead, she will take a year off before beginning her college career.
This is known as a “gap year”, a phenomenon more popular in Europe but catching on in the United States.
It is catching on so much that there is an American Gap Association that presents the values in taking a gap year, and Harvard itself is all but promoting the idea to incoming freshmen.
It makes some sense for Malia Obama, whose family will be undergoing a significant change in the winter of 2016 when her father is no longer President of the United States. For other students, it is often a matter of economics.
For others, however, it is a question about maturity, decision-making and understanding just what they are going to college for.
How prevalent is the use of a gap year? According to the AGA, 90 percent of students enroll directly from high school into college if they intend on ever attending collect.
But that could be changing, and that is in part to the fact that schools are promoting the idea.
“Harvard has seen a 33 percent jump in the number of students taking a gap year and now dozens of other colleges and universities advertise the option on their websites,’’ said Jeffrey Selingo, author of There Is Life After College, in an interview with National Public Radio. All Ivy League schools have followed suit.
The gap year comes with consequences. It can affect funding, for instance. While some schools will offer scholarships to students and delay providing the funds for that year, other institutions require students to reapply for funding if they take a gap year. Also, federal funds cannot be deferred for a year, and would require reapplication.
Then there is the slumming effect, the one that causes parents to dislike the idea of a gap year because their children lose the academic focus. Students who work odd jobs and just kick back in their gap year are less likely to success at college, and have a much greater dropout rate once they attend.
However, those students who do something constructive with their gap year turn out to be the kind of students who do well once they get to college. Students who accomplish something in their gap year also tend to spend less time partying and drinking when they get to school.
“For a gap year to have a significant impact, it needs to be a transformative event, quite distinct from anything that students have experienced before,’’ Selingo said.
Organizations that woo gap year students for volunteer work or activism – like Global Citizen Year and UnCollege -say their alumni have a better idea of what they want to study and as a result get better grades. According to Dale Stephens of UnCollege, gap year students create better relationships with their professors and get involved with extended learning opportunities on campus.
Most experts agree that a gap year for a serious student is beneficial, but requires a plan for activities within that year to make the most sense and promote success for the eventual college student.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.