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  • Riya Patel

Should U.S. High School Graduates Follow in the Steps of the British and Take a Gap Year?

In England, about 11% of students take a gap year after graduating high school and prior to enrolling at a university. Whereas in the United States, there is a much lower rate since it is a newer and unconventional idea for most Americans. Since 2006, the idea of taking a gap year, or bridge year according to Princeton University, has become increasingly popular. The reasons for taking a gap year-- or not taking one-- can be extremely varied depending on the situation, person and environment. There are numerous influences that play into the decision of taking a gap year and each situation is different. Some factors that are influential in this process are parental and social expectations and norms, the health of oneself and family members, career aspirations and other opportunities, and financial issues.

First, let’s talk about the social aspect. We all have parents, schools, and friends that expect us to go to college right after high school. It’s the norm. Rarely anyone we know takes a gap year, so why would we? No one even brings it up as an option along with the other options everyone (most log our parents) gives us… Harvard, Yale Princeton, etc. This total exclusion of the idea of a gap year leads to the extremely low rates of U.S. high school graduates taking a gap year.

Health comes first, to everyone— at least it should. A significant factor in taking a gap year is the health of the student and the health of family members. If one is sick or has a sick family member, they should not feel pressured to attend school and sacrifice the health of themselves or a loved one. Currently, students feel like they must attend college right after high school but if there is a good reason, like a health issue, they should feel comfortable taking a year off. In addition, it doesn’t have to be a physical health issue. Mental health disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in the adolescent years, especially after undergoing 4 years in a competitive and pressure-filled high school. Everyone should know it is completely okay to take a year off to improve your wellbeing.

Everyone has goals, aspirations and a bright future. No matter where you end up, it is where you were meant to be. It is important to note while some career destinations are similar, every single journey is unique. Depending on what you plan to do as your occupation, a gap year may be perfect for you to figure out the path you want to take. More likely, however, is if a student has no idea which career direction they want to take— which is relatively common in this day and age— a gap year could allow him/her to explore their options, develop a passion and be confident in their choices (that is better than going to school for one thing but realizing that you want to do something else resulting in starting over, wasting time and money). Also, once in a lifetime opportunities only come once— in a lifetime. It is the student's responsibility to take advantage of these crucial skill-building opportunities. Examples of these opportunities volunteer work in an underprivileged area, highly-selective internships and cutting-edge research. These are all instances where a gap year would allow one to focus and flourish in a field of their passion.

Finally, college is becoming unimaginably expensive, like crazy expensive. Tuition for a year can be anything up to $80,000 a year. That is something very very few families can easily afford. And although many colleges claim to “meet 100% of our students’ needs,” the definition of “need” is flexible and it is questionable if this statement is actually factual. Families are left with the burden of sending their child to a good school and spending all of their savings. Often, a gap year would allow the student to obtain a full-time job and help with the fees of going to school the next year. This would significantly help out their parents and ensure a good education for themselves.

Overall, “gap year” is not a bad word to consider— or even say. It should be completely acceptable for students to take a gap year for the right reasons. Taking a gap year to play video games and go to the mall every day is not something we should encourage, however, there are so many reasons a gap year can be beneficial. This decision should be thoroughly considered by the student and family if it is the right option for them. It is predicted that the prevalence of gap years will increase in the future as the trend is currently showing. Talking about and considering gap years can lead to highly beneficial situations for students and it is important for everyone to become aware of the option.

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