Seniors, it’s that time! College application deadlines are coming sooner than we realize and meanwhile, we must maintain good grades, keep up with our extracurricular activities, and keep ourselves mentally stable—all at the same time.
No one said it would be easy. As if Junior year wasn’t stressful enough, this first semester of senior year is really putting our emotions to the ultimate test. And in no time, we’ll be on our way to college, where stress will continue to pile up—that is, unless you decide to take a gap year.
You might be thinking, what? Why would anyone interrupt their path in life? I get it. It’s not something that most of us have been raised to think of as “normal.” Going straight to college feels too automatic to give up. I don’t consider myself especially audacious, but after spending this summer in Israel, I realized that there’s no set path for our lives.
After the first mind-hurdle in taking a gap year—interrupting your predetermined route in life—comes the fear that you will always be one year behind your peers and therefore struggle to get a job. I worried about this for a while, but ultimately, I realized it’s total baloney. First of all, depending on how you decide to spend your gap year, colleges often accept credits earned during that year, allowing you to complete college in just three to three-and-a-half years. So, you can still graduate at or around the same time you would have if you didn’t take a gap year. Second of all, it’s really not a big deal to defer from college for a year. Most colleges will allow you to without question, and once you leave high school, age begins to matter increasingly less; meaning, you can enter college as a freshman at 19 years old, and no one will think anything of it. It doesn’t mean you were “held back” or too “stupid” to start college at 18.
In fact, more colleges are becoming more accepting of and even encouraging gap years. Harvard actually suggests taking a gap year on every acceptance letter, in order to avoid/improve mental health issues. Some colleges, such as Florida State University, even offer financial assistance for a gap year. The dean of admissions at Middlebury College found that students who take a gap year before college generally end up with higher GPAs than those who don’t. When considering these advantages, though, you must also know some of the setbacks to taking a gap year.
Taking a gap year has been scientifically proven to decrease motivation. But for some students who are too focused on schoolwork, this will simply help with stress and anxiety, and reduce their motivation to that of an average college freshman. If you find that you are not motivated to do school work, though, taking a gap year might not be the right decision for you.
What can I do on a gap year? Great question! Jewish students tend to participate in gap year programs in Israel, such as Young Judaea Year Course, USY’s Nativ, or a Yeshiva program, like Seminary. However, gap years do not have to be paid programs. You can choose to work for the year if you’d like to make some money before college, or you can do volunteer work. You can even travel the world by yourself. The possibilities are endless.
Taking a gap year before college can be extremely beneficial for your mental health. If you’re not sure whether it’s the right decision for you, do some research! There are several published studies about the results of a gap year, both beneficial and not, so make sure that you look at both sides. Now, enjoy college applications!