Give me a break -- students take "gap years" off from schooling

Emily Artus, Staff Writer

“Only four more years.”

College freshmen repeat this mantra to themselves as they present the 800th project of their academic careers. Four more years may seem like a breeze, but after 12 years of previous education, eight semesters of college can be insurmountable.

So, many students take what is known as a gap year: a break in between high school and college, between semesters in college and between undergraduate degrees and grad school.

These breaks allow students to recharge, see the world, earn money for education and gain experience.

In recent years, the importance of college degrees has risen, and many high school students feel the pressure to jump straight from one academic world to the next.

But after 12 years of formal schooling, who can blame hesitant students for looking for a break from the rigid academic structures?

And though not without their drawbacks, gap years are an increasingly accessible way for young adults to take a break and explore the non-academic world.

Karley Brannon, a sophomore interdisciplinary major, cites a similar feeling of fatigue driving her to take a gap year between high school and her freshman year of college.

“I’ve always struggled in school, and so it’s been difficult,” said Brannon. “But I knew that I needed to go to college at the same time.”

So Brannon decided to take a gap year and go on a 10-month mission trip to El Salvador.

During her time there, Brannon immersed herself in the culture, picked up on the Spanish language, learned how to strengthen her faith and shared the gospel with the Salvadorians.

Though her experiences in El Salvador differed wildly from an academic setting, Brannon returned to the US and adjusted back into college life fairly easily.

“We had Spanish classes,” said Brannon. “It wasn’t super strict, but we still had structure, and there were a lot of disciplined things we had to do.”

By taking language classes and disciplining herself to clean and cook dinner, Brannon said her experiences in El Salvador prepared her to return to the structured academic world.

But not every student who takes a gap year explores a foreign country or goes on a mission trip. Some students take gap years for other reasons or purposes.

Wyatt Parvis, a freshman health and wellness major, took a gap year between high school and college when his family moved states three times during the period in which he would have enrolled.

Because of the uncertainty of where his family would be, Parvis took time off from school to work and to wait for his family to settle down in Pickens, S.C. (http://cityofpickens.com)

Many students take time off to work and earn money for college—especially as college tuitions grow steeper and steeper each year.

Because of university’s rising expense (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76), many students take time off between semesters to raise funds to return to school, without going into debt.

Though less common, a gap year between semesters in college is a riskier option but can be beneficial for many students—if done right.

Jenny Hitt, a senior at North Greenville University (http://www.ngu.edu), took a gap year between her sophomore and junior years of college, and she said it was one of the best decisions of her life, recharging her spiritually and motivating her to finish college.

However, a very present danger exists when taking a break during university: students may not return to finish their degree.

Brannon suggests evaluating one’s personality and researching gap years before hopping on a plane to South America.

“In one way, I feel like you are motivated more,” said Brannon. “And in another way, just depending on your personality, it could actually keep you from doing school.”

According to a study by Sunny Niu and Marta Tienda (https://muse.jhu.edu/article/494297), students who take a one-year break between high school and college are 10 percent less likely to receive a bachelor’s degree, and the study suggests gap years statistically lessen a student’s willingness to complete school.

However, the study makes note of other factors dissuading students from higher education, such as socio-economic status and previous academic achievement.

Furthermore, Niu and Tienda explain other characteristics,­ such­ as­ inclination, dedication and maturity, may also affect the likelihood of students returning to school after a break.

Despite the risks, gap years continue to be taken, and students continue to return to higher education, and for many, taking a gap year can be beneficial for mental health and motivation.

Gap years provide a chance for students to explore options from a non-academic standpoint, and students like Hitt and Brannon have benefitted from their time off.

“Most research shows that it makes someone more motivated,” said Brannon. “Because you have that time off and you have that time to explore interests.”