Taking a gap year has many benefits for students, from a mental health point of view to a more practical one. This experience not only serves to give the student a break but also allows them to see the world from another perspective and gain a series of skills that will definitely make a difference when applying to university. In fact, this increasingly necessary break after high school allows students to have a clearer idea about their future and decide for themselves.
A gap year is a sabbatical, usually a 6-12 month break after high school, dedicated to working, traveling, and/or volunteering. During this time students aim to boost their CV, and acquire new academic and social skills. Above all, a gap year has social-emotional benefits in line. While traveling and living elsewhere will strengthen our interpersonal and linguistic skills, taking a temporary break from studying will soothe our souls and offer many emotional benefits.
Studying for the International Baccalaureate or any school-leaving exams becomes excruciating in the last year. As a counselor, every year I see many students cut off ties with the outer world, stop going to parties, or even stop going out altogether in order not to waste any precious time or energy that could be invested in studying, contributing to a higher Grade Point Average (GPA) in the end. Most teens worry about academic performance and grades the whole year round. Already in pre-Covid times, the pressure that US teens faced to get good grades affected 61% of the interviewed teens. Moreover, even before the pandemic, Gen Z experienced higher levels of problematic mental health. If academic stress is not dealt with, it can easily transpire into academic burnout. Apathy, depression, and lack of motivation, as well as engagement in risky behavior (abuse of alcohol, illegal substances, smoking, gambling), are often the negative side effects of academic stress and/or burn-out.
With the backdrop of increased stress and burn-out levels, counselors worldwide have seen the number of students opting for a time-out in the form of a gap year soar. Most often students embark on a trip far away, where they volunteer or work and travel. Apart from adding valuable skills to their portfolios, such as social skills, if the students are placed in hotels or restaurants, they have the chance to discover new cultures, learn new languages and above all, calm down emotionally. The gap year becomes like a breath of fresh air that offers the students the opportunity to clear their heads and think straight about their future.
Farina et al., 13 May 2020, High School Student Burnout: Is Empathy a Protective or Risk Factor? In Frontiers Psychology.
Academic Burnout statistics to know, Conquer your Exam, March 2 2022. https://www.conqueryourexam.com/academic-burnout-statistics-to-know/
Stress Statistics Teens 2021-2022 https://financesonline.com/student-stress-statistics/
Bethune, S. 2014. Vol. 45(4). American Psychological Association. Teen stress levels rival that of adults https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/teen-stress
Still wondering whether taking a gap year would be beneficial or not? Learn about the stories of three students as well as testimonials from universities, that will make you stop doubting!
Some inspiring stories
Allyson, a US citizen, took a gap year after completing one year of Sociology in the US. She wanted to change her major and apply overseas. She supported a local recycling program and felt like pursuing Environmental Studies in the UK or Canada. “A gap year has provided me ample time to become completely comfortable with myself and my capabilities. Do not spend time comparing your own situation to those of classmates and friends, and take comfort in knowing that you are investing in your future and creating a completely unique opportunity for yourself that will broaden your worldview once you enter post-secondary education”.
Antonia, from New Zealand, focused after high school on teaching and service for street children in Honduras. She developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and Latin America so ended up completing a degree in Latin American studies. “A gap year gave me a chance to step out of the traditional educational system and do something completely different, and more importantly, it was a challenge. Everything I see now, I see through new eyes. It turned out to be so much more than I could have possibly expected”.
Florin, a Swiss citizen, completed military service. During it, he gained work experience with Credit Suisse Asset Management and spent numerous hours programming machine learning models and trading algorithms. This prepared him for his Computer Science and Engineering applications to the US and Switzerland. “A gap year allows you to discover foreign cultures, gain real-work experience, pick up a new trade or hobby, and pursue existing passions”.
What do universities think?
Universities all over the world agree that students that have graduated from high school a year ago or more can contribute with their unique ideas and thoughts, so their experience will surely bring additional value to their candidature. University representatives have noticed that a gap year gives undergraduate students an extra year to gain experience, and form a more solid idea about what they want to do with their future. As a result, it helps most students make a sound higher education choice with a higher chance of success.
Dr. Daniella Schmitt
Dr. Daniella Schmitt is the Head of Secondary at European School RheinMain, Germany