Obama made the news recently. No, not that Obama.  Malia, the oldest daughter of President Barack Obama, made headlines when she decided to delay entering college for one year.

Wait, what? She’s the President’s daughter and she is not going to college in the fall? How is this possible? Malia will participate in something that a growing number of high school seniors choose to do: the Gap year.elephant_ride

What is a Gap Year?

A Gap year is where, instead of immediately enrolling in college after high school, a student will explore different cultures or potential careers during a set period of time (such as an academic semester or year). No, this doesn’t mean take time off from school and instead watch Netflix all day and play video games; students who do a Gap year are busy allocating time and efforts in helping an approved organization, often in another country. According to the American Gap Association (AGA), the concept originated in the United Kingdom in the ‘70’s to fill the time between high school final exams and the start of college, and has since grown in popularity across Europe and Australia.

This seems… different. What are some benefits? Potential risks?

The traditional pathway to college has been to enter straight out of high school. However, many students may not be fully certain what they want to major in. One benefit of a Gap year is that it allows the student to gain a variety of academic, professional, and personal benefits, including:

  • Personal development and reflection to increase a student’s clarity (helps them create and identify their purpose), which increases their academic performance in college
  • Enhance communication and other career-related skills
  • Work with diverse individuals and increase the student’s global view

There are of course risks associated with this. For example, if the Gap year experience involves spending time in a foreign country, make sure to know of any risks associated with spending time in that specific area. Also, certain scholarships and financial aid may not be willing to wait a year, so know for sure what your financial aid offers look like for starting college right away vs. doing a Gap year.

How are colleges viewing Gap Years?

Many of the top schools in the United States are starting to embrace this concept. Florida State University has created a model that will allow students to hold off on starting college for a year, still be admitted, and still count on certain FSU scholarships to be waiting for them when the student gets back the next year.  There are even opportunities to get a scholarship for the Gap year experience! You can read more about this by following this link.

Is a Gap year right for you?

Do plenty of research and learn about what this process entails, and as with any major life decision, make sure it is the right fit for you. Remember, this is something that is still developing in the American collegiate landscape, so some colleges may still not have a policy in place for Gap year. Also, consider what scholarships and financial aid you may be eligible for, and see if you are at risk of losing it if you take a Gap year.

Gap years appear to be growing in popularity, time will tell if this concept becomes a significant and permanent fixture in American higher education.