Mind the Gap: The Benefits of a Gap Year (by Karah Gossman)

karah.gossman-K.Gossman Culminating Project PhotoIntroduction

I am a born traveler. I took my first plane trip at six weeks old and I haven’t

stopped since. My community theme spawned from my past experiences and how they

affected my mental and academic development. Culture & The Arts and their affect on

Education has always been a forefront part of my education. My parents always

prioritized travel like food and clothing and would save up all year for a family

adventure. I’ve been backpacking through Europe. I’ve snorkeled off the coast of

Mexico, and I’ve experienced Inuit culture in Alaska thanks to them.Having these

experiences a such a formative age dramatically affected my education in ways that not

many experience.

I realized there was a need in my community when I told friends of mine in high

school that my family had decided to move to Cuenca, Ecuador. Their response was

“Why are you moving to Africa?” I was floored for days after hearing that. How could the

people I had been attending all my classes with know so little about the world? I was

dumbfounded for a while, until I realized one thing. The educational norm in the United

States is severely outdated. American students don’t know about the outside world and

are in desperate need of world experiences. Experiences they can gain through a gap

year. Our education system needs to start advocating the gap year as part of the

academic path.

The Research


America’s current widely held educational tenet is depriving its student population the opportunities to learn about and understand the world as well rounded adults. Adolescence is a critical time for brain growth. A time when significant intellectual processes are emerging. Adolescents are moving from concrete to abstract thinking and to the beginnings of metacognition (the active monitoring and regulation of thinking processes). They are developing skills in deductive reasoning, problem solving, and generalizing. A developing mind, such as I have described, needs experience in matters that are going to influence important decisions made later in life. More than ever before young students are having greater and greater amounts of expectation heaped upon them by society, family, and community. This is detrimental to the developing mind and without reprieve permanent damage can be inflicted. I propose that schools should encourage and incentivize students to take a gap year in between high school and college.

The gap year is a relatively new theory for The United States. Students of countries around Europe and even Canada have implemented the idea of a gap year. Only in the last decade have influential colleges like Harvard and Princeton encouraged their applicants to take time away from academia. (Strauss 2016) A gap year can be very brief or last for a year or more. A person can follow a schedule or steer completely away from the structure that was prevalent in their lives for the past twelve years of their education. Some direct their goals towards career, academic, or purely personal pursuits. Fundamentally, a gap year is a time to step back and reflect. It is a time of self discovery and an opportunity to gain perspective on personal values and goals. This time also provides the reprieve needed to gain necessary life experience in a setting separate from and independent of what one is accustomed to, such as pressures, expectation, familiarity, and comfort.

The gap year is still being introduced into America’s culture. A few decades ago, high school students were expected to immediately enroll in college. The graduates of the 1940s and 1950s were expected to get a substantial degree that would provide for a family, if they were male, and were expected to find a husband to immediately get married to, if they were female. (History 2010) “School, homework, extracurricular activities, sleep, repeat — that’s what it can be for some of these students,” said Noelle Leonard, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing (Nauert 2015) A strict and regimented schedule, as described above, leads to chronic stress that is very harmful to the developing mind of the young adult. It impedes their abilities to succeed academically, compromises their mental health functioning, and fosters risk behavior. Chronic stress can also contribute to academic disengagement, and mental health problems among emerging adults.

A study conducted by the New York University College of Nursing on high school juniors stated that Nearly half (49 percent) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed. Females reported significantly higher levels of stress than males (60 percent vs. 41 percent) Grades, homework, and preparing for college were the greatest sources of stress for both genders. A substantial minority, 26 percent of participants, reported symptoms of depression at a clinically significant level. (Nauert 2015)

Later in life, chronic stress can lead to a feeling of displacement or loss in any college or high school graduate. Professionals of thirty or forty years old who have been in their chosen professions for decades sometimes act as if they are the survivors of a bloody gauntlet run that was their education and childhood. Physicians, lawyers, academics, entrepreneurs, and others give the impression that they are bewildered by how they turned out. Some say they ended up in their profession or trade because of the influence of another’s view, others say they simply drifted into it with little thought as to whether or not they were passionate about their work. What is most often said is they missed their childhood in its entirety because they were constantly chasing a goal someone else made for them. (Schoffer 2015)

In contrast, positive testimonials from college alumni who took a gap year are full of inspiring rhetoric. Christina Schoffer interviewed a number of graduates from many different colleges about their gap year experiences. Over all, the consensus was a wave of encouragement towards high school graduates to take time off before enrolling in college classes. Berkeley High graduate Chandrika worked for six months and then traveled in Ghana for six months to get to know her ancestral culture. She says that the experience was pivotal in her development. (Schoffer 2015)

We can’t learn from what we aren’t exposed to. With out having the experiences she did Chandrika would not be the person she is. In order for a person to become the best version of themselves, academically and health-wise, they need experiences that contribute to their development. A study by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, authors of The Gap Year Advantage, found 60% of gap year participants said the experience influenced or confirmed their choice of major. Nearly all of study abroad students say their gap years helped them develop as a person (98 percent) and increased maturity (97 percent). (Gap Year Fairs 2017)

Cost is a major factor for the average student. Tufts University of Massachusetts has taken the initiative to create a plan to aid applicants of all economical backgrounds in attending gap year programs that best fit them. This will allow students the opportunity to engage in a year of full-time national or international service before beginning the traditional college experience. (Schoffer 2015) Similar programs are already in effect at Princeton, the University of North Carolina, and St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. The nonprofit Global Citizen Year is proud that 80 percent of the organization’s participants receive financial aid, and nearly 30 percent are fully funded. (Schoffer 2015)

With programs like these, the gap year is a feasible option for the average high school graduate.

The major reason behind the reservations behind not supporting the gap year is fear of the unknown. People are always afraid of what they don’t understand, but if they were to travel outside of their comfort zone their lives would proceed with a clear understanding of the world and their place in it. The gap year should be implemented as part of the academic plan that students of America’s educational system experience in their formative years.

Works Cited/Annotated Bibliography:

I will be focusing on the specific problem of how schools don’t encourage travel or taking a gap year in-between high school and college. The sources I have found are focuses on a variety of subjects. Some about the specific physical and psychological effect of school burn out on grad school, high school, and college students. I also plan cover the benefits to a person’s psychology when they do travel. I am not currently volunteering anywhere as my work schedule doesn’t allow for any time. In this article I will be writing from personal experience. I’ve been traveling since I took my first plane ride at just six weeks old. Because of my exposure to the fact that my world isn’t restricted to the three counties surrounding my house I have matured and grown into the woman I am today. I wish for this paper to help those who still believe that fulfilling their wanderlust is unnecessary to take the facts and modify their way of thinking.


Nauert, Dr. Rick . ”Forget the Ivies: Some Teens Already Burned Out from Stress.” Psych Central News. N.p., 06 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017. This particular source has some great information from medicals studies on the effects of school burnout on teens in high school. The article explains in-depth that chronic stress derived from very full schedules can severely compromise a student’s mental health. As teens are still developing their pre-frontal cortices they need plenty of time to work through problems and come up with solutions to their situations. This article was written by Dr. Rick Nauert PhD. He has 25 years of experience in administrative and academic healthcare. His experience in this specific medical field will lend some great scholarly information on this particular topic. Additionally, this source will provide a very professional point of view. I am bringing in a lot of information the personal side of my argument so having such a researched and academic article to help me flesh out this piece will go a long way.

Schoffer, Christina . “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: The Benefits of Taking a Gap Year Off Before College.” Cal Alumni Association. N.p., 06 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017. I like this source because it has some personal accounts from alumni of UC Berkley, which is a ver prestigious college. The testament of a person who has experience the benefits of travel and the human experience will add a great facet of information to this paper. I find this information to be very introspective compared to other articles I have read. Additionally this paper has a very convincing argument. I might use this piece as a template for future papers. This paper is a good source of personal histories and how their experiences affected their schoolwork up to late life.

“Gap Year Programs.” USA Gap Year Fairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2017. This source is the solution to the problem. Many think that a gap year isn’t feasible because of financial constraints, but there are many programs available for those who struggle financially, like myself. I travel only when I can find good deals rather than planning to go to a specific place. I believe there is a little excitement in that. This source will provide links to actual programs that students can really sign up for to travel and learn and experience. Gap Year USA is a ver trustworthy organization. It facilitates matching programs with students. They travel to school functions and fairs to encourage students to take the time and live for a little while before completing their education.

Strauss, Valerie. “Why Harvard ‘encourages’ students to take a gap year. Just like Malia Obama is doing.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 01 May 2016. Web. 06 June 2017.



  1. Selah Johnson

    I felt like there was a lot of potential here for positivity but I must admit that the strength of your negative claims distracted me from the overall flow of the paper. For instance, if I was focusing on the benefits of gap years I would have started with the definition of a gap year that you finished your second paragraph with. If I know that a gap year is a time to step back, reflect, and grow then I will be intrigued and want to know why this important and how a gap year effects this goal. It seems that there are some very positive aspects of gap years and I would want to learn more about these programs. I know I struggled to settle on a major partially because my high school didn’t offer many electives. Gap years might be especially useful for students in that position. I often advise students to go to community college for the first 2 years for that reason. I found especially valuable that there is an organization that helps match students to gap year programs and financing. One big concern I would have is how many people who ‘gap year’ fail to begin college after the gap? Do you have any resources on this?


  2. Kayla Sahlfeld

    I think this is such an interesting topic, and one I can really relate to. At the beginning of my senior year, I suggested to my mom taking a year off after i graduated. Her response was “Absolutely not. Never.”. Her logic, was that if I took a year off, I would not want to return to school. So, like all my other friends, I applied for, and was admitted to a 4 year private university. After one semester, I dropped out. I wasn’t feeling it, my head wasn’t in it. I continued working, and went back to school a few months later. I just needed some time.

    I think that it is important for students to feel a little bit of stress, but not everyday. In your late teens and early twenty’s you learn so much about yourself, and what path your life may take. I honestly find it a little scary that we expect a 17-18 year old to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives, some of them even having no work experience at all! I think when I have children, I will encourage them to take some time off, explore the world, and explore themselves.

  3. I love this project, Karah! So much to think about.

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