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Gap year study abraodAccording to a recent article, “proponents from Harvard on down say students who take a year off from their studies are more mature, better focused, more curious, better community members with a more refined idea of what they’d like to study and how they plan to contribute to the world.”

The author goes on to add that “the kind of maturity and perspective [gained on a gap year] is exactly what’s sought by an increasing number of U.S. high school graduates—supported by their sometimes more-reluctant parents—who choose to take time off before or during college. Nobody keeps definitive numbers, but colleges, universities, high school guidance counselors, and college admissions reps all report anecdotally that interest in gap years among American students is sharply on the rise.”

So, who should take a gap year? There is no single profile of the ideal candidate. The article shares that high school graduates or college students thinking about a gap year can be categorized into five general groups according to Ethan Knight, Executive Director of the American Gap Association, an organization whose primary focus is to increase the awareness of Gap Years and their benefits.

“Meaning seekers” typically have high SAT scores, decent or mid range GPAs, and are looking for context for the learning they’ve been exposed to. Knight says a majority of gap year students fits into this first category.

“Overachievers” not surprisingly, have high SATs, high GPAs, and have been gunning for the Ivy Leagues or similarly competitive schools for much of their educational lives. Typically, these students are burned-out from their high-pressure high school experience and are looking for a break before beginning an equally rigorous secondary education.

“Pragmatists” are very much aware of how much college costs and typically don’t want to commit to four years of tuition without a better sense of their higher education goals. These students often use a gap year to intern, apprentice, or work at an entry-level job as an entry point to potential career decisions that will be made in college.

“Strugglers” are students who might not have found academic success in high school, sometimes due to a learning disability or learning difference. A gap year can give such students a needed boost in perspective, self-awareness, and self-confidence as they participate in non-traditional learning activities and are able to experience success, often for the first time.

“The disengaged,” a small sliver of gappers, are typically students who feel no burning desire to continue on immediately to college. This sub-group uses a gap year to refine their focus and—their parents hope, anyway—gain some fire-in-the-belly for their next moves in life.

Want to learn more? Read the article that appeared in Brain Child, The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.