So youâ€™ve heard that Malia Obama, the Obamasâ€™ older daughter, is going to Harvard. Thatâ€™s exciting, but I think the real news is that sheâ€™s taking a gap year. More students should consider taking one.
Although Maliaâ€™s case is specialâ€”I read that sheâ€™s waiting until her father is out of officeâ€”a gap year is a good idea anyway.
When my nephew took three years out of his professional life to live and work in Costa Ricaâ€”he is now certified reading and writing in Spanishâ€”our family expected him to interact with and meet Costa Ricans and immerse himself in their culture.
What we didnâ€™t expect was his meeting young Europeans from all over the continent. Apparently itâ€™s not unusual for Europeans to travel for a year or two before they start college.
Yet, in the United States, the idea of traveling before beginning college hasnâ€™t caught on, and thatâ€™s regrettable. Instead, kids are marching lockstep from high school into their post-secondary lives, and often have no idea what theyâ€™re doing there, what they should major in, or even who they are.
Abigail Falik wrote recently in Nicholas Kristofâ€™s New York Times “On the Ground” column about gap years and the American practice of avoiding them. Kristof is a New York Times columnist and ardent promoter of taking time off to travel or pursue other experiences before college.
FalikÂ notes that one-third of college freshmen donâ€™t return to school for a second year; that American students squeeze four years of college into six, and that stress, hopelessness, and anxiety are major players in the lives of college students.
And thereâ€™s more bad news, which Iâ€™ve written about before: Only 11% of employers say that college graduates are ready for the workforce.
Although a gap year may not be the answer to all these ills, research shows positive effectsâ€”like increased maturity, confidence, and achievement.
Just to be clear, for a gap year to produce these kinds of benefits it needs to be purposeful. Some parents of color may be uncomfortable with the ideaâ€”fearing a loss of momentum or the allure of less academic pursuits or influences.
But a purposeful, structured year off can be a meaningful time in a young personâ€™s life, and scholarships that make it easier for low-income pre-college students are becoming more available.
Global Citizen Year, an organization FalikÂ founded and leads in support of the gap year concept, identifiesÂ high potential students and provides financial aid to those whose families canâ€™t pay; 80% of each yearâ€™s class has received need-based financial aid.
Maliaâ€™s going to Harvard, and thatâ€™s great. But the real news is that sheâ€™s taking a gap yearâ€”maybe your son or daughter should too.