Illustration by Maytal Bach

The phrase “gap year” can seem taboo among seniors as they begin applying for colleges. It frequently carries negative association for the more academically inclined among us who most likely are gearing up for an immediate entry into college next fall. The generalizations vary, but usually they fall along the lines of unmotivated and directionless.

Similarly, the year long break can come with a certain amount of fear for the parents and guardians of students considering the option. Often the concern is that the year long break may leave them out of practice when they enter the academically rigorous atmosphere of college. Some parents are concerned that a gap year may turn their children off from higher education entirely.

However, the opposite may be true.

For many, the year away from the books can help give them time to mature and find purpose, allowing them to enter college with a clearer idea of what they want to pursue. Gap years can give students real life experience either in a job or traveling that can be invaluable to have before, rather than after, college.

There is a steady trend in United States high school seniors towards taking a gap year before entering college, but other countries discovered the value of time off years ago. In England and Australia, eleven percent of graduating seniors opt for a gap year.

Now for all you juniors out there reading this, that does not mean you can kick back and relax because you think you can just take a gap year. Even if you are considering a gap year, it is important to be accepted into a college and defer for a year, as this allows you to have a plan moving forward after your break.

Gap years are not an excuse to hang out around the house for an entire year; this time should be spent productively, either working, volunteering, traveling, or a combination of the three. And for those of you thinking you can just hop on the next plane to Europe or Asia — think again — gap years spent traveling can cost anywhere between ten thousand and twenty thousand dollars, so careful planning and work is required to pull it off for most.

Now, for those who are concerned that a gap year may wreak havoc on the study habits you have carefully fostered over the years, fear not. Studies have shown that on a 4.0 scale, students who took a gap year have GPAs — 0.15 to 0.2 higher than their peers who enter college immediately.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with going directly into college. For many students that is the best choice. If you know what you want to pursue, a gap year may be lost on you. However college tuition is becoming increasingly expensive, which begs the question: If you don’t know what you want to do, why waste your money? Instead the best choice may be to discover yourself outside the classroom for awhile.