01 May Malia Obama is taking a Gap Year … Should You?

Should you take one too?

Malia Obama has chosen Harvard University, but after she takes a gap year.

“The President and Mrs. Obama announced today that their daughter Malia will attend Harvard University in the fall of 2017 as a member of the Class of 2021. Malia will take a gap year before beginning school,” the White House said in a statement.

Gap Year is the term given to a year ‘off’ between graduation from high school and the start of college. A Gap Year is a great idea for many students, and colleges seem to love it (if it is used well!).

02malia-web01-master768Here at AIM, we’ve been singing the praises of the gap year, and we’ve had several students use a gap year successfully. Many parents, and students, react to the idea of a year ‘off’ after high school with suspicion and skepticism. For some, it can feel like a failure and many students are uncomfortable with being ‘left behind’ by other members of their class. Parents fear that their kid won’t return to school after a year ‘off’. Some data may back up parents’ worst fear – TIME reports that “a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, found that, all things being equal, those who delayed college by a year were 64% less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than those who enrolled immediately after high school.”

As with all decisions, it’s best to understand what is the RIGHT FIT for the individual.  At AIM, we don’t recommend the Gap Year as time ‘off’ – it must be clearly planned out. Sure, it’s time off from school but we recommend using this time wisely – to develop a skill, learn a new language, build on an existing interest, volunteer, travel, some combination of the above, or otherwise use the time in a meaningful way. Some students take this time to improve their college profile (SATs and extra curriculars) so they can get better offers and scholarships.

It’s far from a year ‘off’!

Colleges love gap years spent well because ‘gapped freshmen’ tend to come in more mature, less burnt out and ready to delve into college life and work. These are powerful predictors of college success.  In fact, Gap-year students at Middlebury College “on average… have shown a clear pattern of having higher G.P.A.’s than would otherwise have been predicted, and the positive effect lasts over all four years,” former admissions dean Robert Claret stated in the New York Times. Harvard encourages it. Princeton has institutionalised it as an option ( a tuition-free, nine-month “Bridge Year” in which students can elect to do a service project internationally).

Malia Obama will join many other students at Harvard, who have taken a gap year before starting college, including one of our very own, John Matthews who took a gap year after deciding to leave UWI’s Medical School during orientation.

My gap year helped me to truly reflect on what I wanted out of a college experience, and life. It was a time of reflection and maturation that also had the added benefit of allowing me to both rejuvenate and explore non-academic passions that I never had the opportunity to dabble in while in school. I also made a lot of time for rest and relaxation, says Matthews. 

He tutored, he took dance classes, he took online courses and he applied to college.

This year, Simran Motiani was one of our 4 gap year students. She started a tutoring business, took an additional subject, re-did her SATs, did two internships with child psychologists, and of course applied to US universities. Far from a year off! The result? Simran was offered over $1million USD in scholarships and chose NYU Abu Dhabi.

Guidance is key – “The one thing I’ve been telling my daughters is that I don’t want them to choose a name,” Michelle Obama told the editors of Seventeen magazine in an article published in April. “I don’t want them to think, ‘Oh, I should go to these top schools.’ We live in a country where there are thousands of amazing universities. So the question is: What’s going to work for you?”.

At AIM we help students find colleges that are the right-fit, that work for them, but also the paths that work for them – and that might just include a Gap Year!