Gap years are becoming increasingly popular among soon-to-be college students and current college students alike. There are numerous benefits to taking a year away from the academic grind and taking time to travel, volunteer, work, or simply figure life out. The term “gap year” is an incredibly broad term that can be applied to many different experiences. When I think of a gap year, I typically think of taking a year off after high school graduation. This might be the most common use of the term. However, taking a year or semester off of college after already beginning a college career is another type of “gap year,” and taking a gap year during college can be beneficial in many unexpected ways.
According to the American Gap Association, 90% of students that leave school to take a gap year return to finish their education. Upon returning, these students typically obtain higher GPAs than their peers, and 75% of returning gap year students reported that they felt their time off of school actually helped them get a job, due to skills learned while away from a classroom environment. Depending on what the student does with their gap year, this time spent travelling or volunteering can also help one decide on a future career path, or find a sense of purpose that might have been lacking inside the too-often impersonal and monotonous walls of academia. Clearly, taking time away from the university is most certainly not detrimental to a student’s education.
However, even spending four consecutive years at the same college feels volatile. The school year is punctuated by numerous breaks, and the entire college life feels like the constant packing and unpacking of suitcases. If a stranger were to ask me where I live, I would have to take a moment to figure out how to answer. As I have matured and made deep friendships with people here at Eastern, I have somehow also begun to lose the sense of having a “home.” In one way, I feel that my home is where my parents are. When I leave school for breaks, certainly I say “I’m going home.” But, I also feel like my home has more and more become this place, with these people. While it is most certainly a good thing that I feel so at home at Eastern, this also means that I can never fully be at home anywhere; I’m always partly longing to be somewhere else. Taking a year away from college to travel or visit some wonderful, distant country feels like it would add to this sense of confusion about home.
Perhaps some people might say that because the college situation is already so flexible in this way, it would be the perfect time to throw caution to the wind and travel as much as possible. There is definitely a lot of truth to this view, and some people might thrive on the unexpected, constantly changing experiences that a gap year could bring. However, there is also something to be said for the desire to become rooted in a particular community that taking a gap year most likely cannot provide. While seeing new places and meeting new people is enriching in one way, becoming fully invested in the people and community around you is soul nourishing in another. It might be impossible to say which experience is better, but for college students unsure about where to call home, taking time to stay still and become a part of the community around you might end up being just as inspiring, in an unexpected way, as adventuring in the rainforests of Costa Rica or learning to cook the perfect pasta dish in Italy.