Though taking a gap year after high school is looked down upon in U.S. culture, colleges in the United States have been taking strides to reverse the stigma against gap years. Colleges such as University of North Carolina, Princeton University, Tufts University and others have begun implementing indispensable programs that encourage students to take a gap year for traveling and volunteering around the world, according to NBC News.
A multitude of colleges have created programs with the intention of eliminating students’ financial issues as a barrier from exploring global communities and getting out of their comfort zones before college. In 2009, Princeton University began offering applicants need-based aid for their gap year activities. At Princeton University, nearly 100 students have participated, volunteering in Brazil, China, India, Peru and Senegal. The University of North Carolina offers $7,500 to gap year applicants for similar pursuits. Tufts University’s gap year program will pay for housing, airfare and even visa fees, which can often add up to $30,000 or more. More and more students are beginning to take part in such programs, with approximately 40,000 American students taking part in gap year programs in 2013 — a 20 percent increase compared to past years, according to NBC News and data collected by the American Gap Year Association.
The typical United States high school student pushes him or herself to the breaking point in order to get that perfect SAT score and GPA solely for the purpose of getting into a “good college,” a term proven to be extremely relative. Students have shut themselves off from the outside world in order to achieve this goal. Opportunities such as gap year programs enable students to see the world outside the classroom — the place in which they will be a full participant in post-grad. As a result, not only do students return to school more focused, self-reliant, aware and confident, but they also become part of the global movement to improve the world through their volunteering throughout the gap year.
Lydia Collins, a 19-year-old freshman studying international relations at Tufts University, is just one example of how taking a gap year can prove life-changing.
“A lot of kids are very burnt out after high school,” Collins, who took a gap year in Ecuador, told NBC News. “Taking this time to be with yourself and see yourself in a new community and light will only help you to succeed in college.”
Students who take gap years have a leg up on students who have not been able to see the world from an alternative perspective; they have more real experience to convey when applying to internships or jobs throughout college and beyond, versus other first-year college students.
With the job market as competitive as ever, standing out from the crowd is imperative for career success — and taking a gap year is one way to do just that. Beyond career development, however, the personal growth and sense of fulfillment and purpose a gap year can provide students is unparalleled. There is no better time to see the world than when students are young. After college, students rush to find jobs and exploring the world is typically put on the back burner. Taking advantage of these developing programs and opportunities at colleges would serve as an unforgettable and beneficial experience for many college students and the world as a whole.
Yasmeen Kamel is a freshman majoring in business administration.