Mandi Brown was one year away from graduating from Arizona State University (ASU) when she informed her parents she needed to take a break; she was going to take a gap year. Here in the U.S., saying you are taking a gap year tends to be interpreted negatively. The perception many have, including Mandi’s parents, is that if a student delays going to college or takes a year off while in college, they may not return to get or finish their degree. After all the time, work, and money spent on 3 years of college, Mandi’s parents and friends expressed their concern.
Statistics, however, show that gap years have a positive effect on students and their outlook about college. According to a study done in 2020 by The Gap Year Association, 40% of students nationwide seriously consider taking a gap year and of those that do, 90% of them return back to school the year after. Upon returning from a gap year, students report being more focused about their studies and having a more defined sense of purpose. Additionally, students reported they felt the gap year helped them improve their ability to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures.
For Mandi, the break was just what she needed. “I just felt very overwhelmed with school and I had no motivation to go to classes anymore.” She wanted to take a gap year to refresh her mind and surround herself with new experiences. During her year off, she worked in internships in her field of interest and even traveled for a couple of months in the United States. Through the internships, she was able to explore new paths in her career of study. “It’s different, actually getting to do hands-on work rather than just reading and writing essays about it in a classroom. It made what I had read about come to life and it helped to put things into perspective for me.” After her internships, Mandi wanted to travel outside of Arizona. “I wasn’t able to go outside of the U.S. but just going to different states like California, New York, and Michigan allowed me to experience different environments and meet new people.” Getting to visit friends and not having the stress of school weighing on her, made her feel like she was taking a breath of fresh air. “I
was happy not to see the ASU building every day.” There were some days she felt like she made the wrong choice, as she saw all her friends graduating and starting their careers, but in the end Mandi knew her decision was what was best for her.
When Mandi returned back to school after her year off, she felt more motivated and recharged. “I didn’t have a hard time waking up and going to class every day and the year felt shorter than it had before.” She was able to be more diligent and looked at things with a new, fresh perspective. It even helped her when it came time to write those essays as now she had practical experiences she could draw from. Overall, Mandi was happy with her decision and recommends it to everyone.
For those thinking that a gap year might be something of interest, the key is to have a plan for how you will spend your time. Whether it be working, volunteering, travelling, learning, or a combination of all of those, as long as you can show that your time off helped you grow and become more self aware, colleges and employers will most likely see your gap year as a positive.
While the U.S. has begun to see an increase in students who are opting to take a gap year, the stigma surrounding the decision needs to change. Rather than seeing it as taking a year off, some have described it as “taking a year on”. As more students like Mandi talk about what they gained: an increase in maturity, increase in self-confidence, academic motivation, and personal development, maybe the gap year will eventually become part of a student’s rite of passage.