What was it that Socrates said? “Visit the Signet Blog for all your tutoring needs”? No, wait—I think it was actually “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Yes, that’s it.
While Socrates may not have been referring to “The Gap Year,” he was correct that contemplation of the self is invaluable during periods of transition—whether geographic, academic, or occupational. Relaxed reflection is essential to the practice of everyday life—particularly those moments of life between signposts of success. Below, we tackle the arguments against the gap year, and the best argument in favor of it.
The Arguments Against
“Why wait when I am ready for college now?”
This is always the first question students ask when confronted with the prospect of a gap year. Of course, you are ready for college in many ways. However, adapting to a new set of academic and social responsibilities is not easy for everyone, and it can be fun and fulfilling to tackle each responsibility without the burden of classes or tuition. You may be ready now, but a gap year will likely leave you extremely prepared, not just ready.
“If I take time off now, I worry I won’t go back to school.”
This is one of our favorite excuses. The best counterargument is to work a full-time job. After a month or two of 40-hour workweeks, most teenagers will beg to go back to school. But the discipline of rising early for work does have academic merit. A 9-to-5 approach to college ensures strong grades without stressful cramming or all-nighters. Give it a try and you’ll probably find the work of college is closer to 30 than 40 hours per week.
“By next year, I will be too old for college.”
College courses, unlike high school courses, are homogeneous mixtures of lower- and upper-classmen, often with some graduate students mixed in. As such, the age of any college student rarely becomes a major issue.
The Argument in Favor
The concept of a gap year (often up to 15 months, including two summers) is almost always misunderstood. Many parents and students fear the onset of lethargy and mental atrophy, and wonder what to do over that seemingly unconventional period of time. To those people, we always stress a multi-faceted approach. Imagine the opportunity for personal growth inherent in the following sample timeline:
- June: Graduation
- July–September: Summer employment; begin planning for your upcoming year.
- September–January: Take advantage of an opportunity that would be enjoyable and would help you grow socially, occupationally, and academically. Some great places to find these opportunities are USA Gap Year Fairs, Gap Year, and Projects Abroad.
- February–June: Work, intern, take a course or two, and visit with friends. If it has taken you longer than the summer to save up for your trip, this will be your chance to travel.
- July–September: Continue studying, working, and connecting with friends.
Beginning school as a freshman in the fall after your gap year, you will have the distinct advantages of maturity, additional education, a rested mind, and increased social confidence. Often, self-growth is the process that occurs in the background of life while we aren’t paying attention. As a result, it can be ignored or devalued. The self, especially during times of transition, should instead be prioritized. During this phase of your life, little is more important than understanding who you are and where your passions lie.
So, once you’ve finished getting yourself into college, do yourself a favor and pause to consider setting aside some time for reflection. Instead of going straight to college, taking a gap year might result in more success and less stress—while potentially saving tuition money in the process.
Remember, college is about becoming your own person.
If our anecdotal authority is not persuasive enough, check out this wonderful piece on the value of deferring enrollment, written by William Fitzsimmons, Harvard College Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.