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Ten years ago, parents cringed when their student mentioned taking a year off between high school and college. They feared the worst—the student would become unfocused, unmotivated and never want to go back to school. Times have changed, however. With an industry of gap year programs like the Winterline Global Skills Program now available for students, gap years are becoming more popular. Many colleges are actually encouraging students to defer matriculation and take part in a gap year program, including the Ivies.

Why are students attracted to the gap year concept?

According to survey data from Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, education-policy experts and co-authors of The Gap-Year Advantage, the most common reason cited for deferring college is to avoid burnout. "I felt like I was focused on college as a means to an end," says Kelsi Morgan, an incoming Middlebury College freshman who spent last year feeding llamas at a North Dakota monastery, interning for a judge in Tulsa, OK, and teaching English at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

A recent article also highlights why High School Senior, Caroline Stukel, will be joining Winterline before entering the Marine Corps. It does a nice job of communicating why she plans to take a gap year in the fall.

For many teens, says Bob Clagett, director of college counseling at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, "Getting in has become an end in itself, not a means to an end." Add in the challenges of moving from home, burned out students can squander their first college years.

For some students, they simply want to have a world-class adventure, work at an internship in a career that interests them, or take some time to work and save money for college. Students who've taken time to work or see the world develop a different perspective. They're independent and more mature.

The hope is that after a year out of the classroom, students will enter college more energized, focused, and grown up. That can be an advantage for colleges, too. Bob Clagett, who was also the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, did some number crunching a few years ago and found that a single gap semester was the strongest predictor of academic success at his institution.

Students and colleges benefit from gap year programs

This perspective pays off in the classroom. Research has found that students who take a gap year have higher GPAs than would have been predicted by their high school records. A bit of space between high school and college made them better learners.

Students themselves benefit, because they broaden their horizons, learn to assimilate into different environments (either global or otherwise), and have some time to focus their energy on pursuing their true passions. This translates into a well-rounded student that knows what he or she wants to study and has the confidence to pursue their future career path.

A gap year may not be for everyone, but for those students who are tired of the academic grind and want to experience life-learning at its best, a gap year is a perfect option.