“It’s too much work!” “There are so many other things to do.” “I just don’t have enough ambition to go right away.” Are these excuses good enough reason to take a year off? Is it OK to take a semester off every once in a while? Gaps are growing in trend. More and more students are saying “no” to college and “yes!” to time off.
Yes, some students take time off to do absolutely nothing. There are the students who spend the year strictly on party time or catching up on all those missed Regis and Kelly episodes.
There are others who spend their time a bit more wisely. “I spent a year getting to know what I wanted to do for my major,” zoology junior Rachel Taylor said. “I got tons of real world experience. I worked and even had the opportunity to volunteer at the Detroit Zoo.” After finishing two years at OCC, Oakland Community College, Taylor decided to take a year off to do some major soul searching.
A gap year does not only pertain to the students taking a year off after high school graduation – students also take off semesters or a year after already being in college.
Most students are in school from pre-school to high school graduation. They’re worn out, not ready, unsure about their major, or want to pursue other things before jumping into college. Some students need time to regroup and mentally prepare for this new experience.
Ever think the students who take a year or two off never go back to school? New research shows that students who take a semester, a year, or years of school off are more likely to graduate than the average college student: 70 percent, to be exact. The time spent away from school tends to give students a break and make them want to do the best they can.
“I’ve heard that universities like it when you take a year off, to get experience,” said Taylor. She’s right, many universities favor the gap year. Harvard encourages students to take a year off to “pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way…” Harvard is not alone in this new tactic. Yale, Princeton, Stanford and many other prestigious schools defer admission, some even encouraging students to take a year off.
According to the MSU Office of Admissions Web site, the student wanting to take time away would need to write an official letter addressing the time off, the reason and any other relevant information. After being admitted to MSU, acceptance to the school is good for one year. The office recommends that students wait to apply and apply closer to the anticipated start date.
It was almost impossible to find a gap year student on MSU’s campus, though. “I want to get done in four years,” social work junior Yolanda Hines said. “I like it on campus, it’s peaceful, and I don’t really want to go home. It would be a waste of money to take a year off.” She shares the attitudes of many students on campus. Most came here expecting four years of school, without taking any breaks in between.
Not all students have the right mindset to take a year off school. According to Taylor, students should only consider a gap year if they are financially able. “Don’t go into any more debt than you have to,” she said.
Rest and relaxation are important. Taylor was probably right in saying that it would not be good to have such a busy year that it’s not like a year was taken off at all. But, the year should not be an excuse for the lazy student to do nothing. More than rest should go into the time off.
Talking to students that have taken time off has yielded the following tips for a successful gap year:
1) Have a plan and be productive. Don’t spend all your time on the couch with a bag of potato chips, watching your favorite television show. Get out in the world and experience new things. Travel abroad to Africa to help with AIDS research, take a European vacation to experience different cultures or join the Peace Corps. Or, you could have some other more reasonable plans. Volunteer for an organization that means something to you, job shadow the career you are planning to pursue and, of course, spend some time to relax.
2) Stay focused. A year is a long time. Don’t wait until the last week of your year to start all these goals. Get started right away. You know how it is telling yourself there’s always another day. “I can get to it tomorrow, geeze, I have a whole year! What’s the rush?” Pushing your plans off for a few days turns into weeks, into months, and before you know it, it’s the day before classes start. Don’t slack off.
3) Be prepared. Spend this time away preparing for your educational goals. You need to remember that you will be back in school someday. College is one of the most important, rewarding and challenging areas in a person’s life. You don’t want to walk into your calculus class without remembering how to do simple arithmetic. Spend time studying for the LSAT, PCAT, MCAT or “whatever” SAT/CAT. You want to be ready for this new endeavor and to be as successful as possible.
A gap year can be beneficial. Students like it, universities recommend it, and it provides a (in some cases a much needed) break. Gap years/semesters are a new trend that many students are taking advantage of. Does taking a year off mean the student won’t ever go back? Let’s face it; college is becoming a commodity these days. But students shouldn’t be scared to take some time off, so long as that time doesn’t become a lifetime.

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