Gap year — only for the privileged few

Bernard Chen , Editor in Chief

Taking a year away from schoolwork to pursue personal interests, gain professional experience or travel? Sounds good in theory. With increasing popularity among high school graduates, taking a gap year before attending college has become somewhat commonplace, boasting that the opportunity develops maturity, focuses the student and provides meaningful memories.

Most notably, Malia Obama is one of many who decided to take a gap year in 2016. During this past year, Obama opted to work at The Weinstein Company office in New York before she enters Harvard University as part of the class of 2021.

As with Obama, there are undoubtedly opportunities to pursue during the year-long gap between high school and college. An increasing number of colleges and universities are beginning to offer gap year programs for admitted students. While Harvard’s website simply encourages taking a gap year in words, Princeton University enables students through their Bridge Year program, offering university-sponsored volunteering at preset locations. Each opportunity is unique and has the potential to benefit the student.

But therein lies the problem: potential is only potential. Gap years are by no means a fail-safe road to success. Only a select few are able to take full advantage of offered opportunities, a select few like Obama, who have the name and exceptional stats to pursue such endeavors. For the vast majority of students, gap years only lead to a decay in goals and education.

Without clear access to guidance or counseling often provided to students directly entering college, students are more likely to lose sight of their goals. With the added distraction of traveling or a job with an income, the short-sighted benefits can often push higher education out of the picture.

And while opportunities like Obama’s internship with The Weinstein Company or other structured travel abroad programs do exist, most require a rigorous application process and take only the top percentile of students. What’s the point in delaying higher education for yet more applications?

These programs are also often costly to participate in. Considering that the most common explanation for taking a gap year is to alleviate the financial burden of university with a year of work, expending excessive money to go abroad in a foreign country, an opportunity that is already offered by institutions, is hardly a logical choice.

At the end of the day, taking a gap year is what you make of it. Unless you have a clear cut path through the year, land your dream job right out of high school or just have an undying passion to construct wells in rural Africa, go to college. The opportunities offered will probably be equivalent to any gap year opportunities and your efforts will have greater impact post-college.