You Need To Take A Gap Year


The Application forest that is home to mutilple national parks. The National Park service offers hundreds of youth programs for your gap year that range from 6 months to 2 years and some even offer free housing and food. This is another great option for your gap year. Photo Credit: Macey Macathur

April McBride

In a few weeks, I will be graduating from Roswell High School and come September, will be starting a new life for myself in Milan, Italy. While reading through old notes, I found one entry from sophomore year that reads “just get it today,” along with a list of my work hours, my school assignments and my commitments to my friends and boyfriend. As sophomore year came and went, school and work had become daily drudgery and I felt my life had melded into a plague of wasted obligations. I knew what I should be doing to get good grades, take care of my parents, rack up tips at the restaurant, be a good friend and inspiring girlfriend, but never understood why I was even at school, at work, or with my friends. 


Like many people, after COVID-19 hit in mid-March of 2020 I was forced to re-examine the way I had planned my life and expectations on me and my future. I was struck with a body-aching fear that I had already wasted so much important developmental time. This pandemic has highlighted the issue with our economic and social situations, people who are not afforded wealth are subsequently not afforded time. All of these daily obligations give us less energy to examine our reality and personal future. This rare moment in history helped me to understand my time was my own and my only real obligation was to myself. 


After a few weeks of deliberation, I created a new list of values. I realized that most of these goals, at least at first, didn’t have to do with college. Me attending college was a dream for my parents and the expectation from my friends, so deciding against it was scary. Despite that fear, my decision to take a gap year leaves me with no pause. I urge you to also take at least a year after your primary education to explore your own interests and values, volunteer, independently study, work, or travel. When done intentionally, the academic, professional, and personal gains of this developmental year will outweigh any risks. 


It may seem counterproductive to take months off of school, but it could easily be the most productive action to improve your higher education. It increases your probability of finishing school, lowers the average of time it takes to finish college from the six year average to four years, and improves your GPA overall, while preventing academic burnout. Another 90% of gap year students return to school in the following year, disproving the myth that a gap year will make you stagnate. This path also can make you appreciate the education you do get, since you have taken the time to be intentional about your studies and educational path. A gap year will make you return to school with a fresh perspective separate from the monotonous conditioning of high school life.


Gap year students even experience a boost professionally after having time allotted to understand their needs in a professional environment and to see a specific future.  It is also helpful in creating connections with others and fostering valuable soft skills. These skills will help to develop your portfolio professionally and become more valuable in your career. 93% of those surveyed by The Gap Year association said their year helped them to develop communication skills. Another 75% said that their gap year helped to connect them with their current work. 


Maybe the most valuable component of a gap year is personal development. You will have lost a large portion of your current obligations, leaving time to commit to yourself. What you do during that time is going to depend heavily on what your goals are overall for the year are but be sure to balance productivity and free time. 97% of those surveyed by American Gap Association said that their gap year improved their maturity. That valuable time to work on your hobbies and interests or just exist and make more time for relationships is crucial. That is what will maximize your gap year and make it worthwhile for you over all.  


I decided to spend my gap year working as an au pair. I considered many other options including a service year with Americorps, working as a nanny while living at home, and even joining an intentional community. For your own journey, there are tons of paths to take including gap year programs, working and living in a national park, volunteering, interning, and more. Taking that time to examine what you want out of your year and what is possible for you and your budget will be vital. I chose this path as it has worked the best for me and my personal goals of international travel, gaining language fluency, and working on my personal art projects, but be sure to follow something aligned with you.


Though a gap year may seem a small amount of time when compared to a lifetime, it forces you to create a deliberate purpose for your time and life. I am confident that using this intentional purpose to choose my own path will be beneficial when I enter the workforce and for my life as a whole. This time will also serve as a microcosm of what is to come when you center yourself in your own life story. You are the only person who has to attend classes, has to work the career you choose, and ultimately the only person that will have to feel the consequences of missed chances. I warn you of the urgency of your own life. You should waste no time pleasing others and begin the walk that will lead you running towards actualized goals and serving your own true purpose.