What is a gap year, exactly? We know “gap year” can be a loaded term that calls to mind many different definitions and questions. Taking a gap year–whether it’s between high school and college, during your undergraduate years, or after college–is a growing trend. So, we’re here to bust the myths, sorting fact from fiction so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not a gap year is the right choice for you.
Myth: Taking a gap year will put me behind my peers
Although it seems like talking a gap year will set you behind your journey, a gap year spent serving with AmeriCorps or other organizations actually allows applicants the opportunity to gain skills that hiring managers and school admissions representatives value in their students.
In fact, many colleges encourage their students to take a gap year. Tufts University’s 1 + 4 Bridge Year Service Learning program, for example, allows Fellows the opportunity to spend a year away from desks and school books, gaining invaluable experience through community service. Not only does this allow students the opportunity to gain real-world experience, they have the opportunity to explore their personal and professional passions--which will set the student up for success and allow them to focus their undergraduate work when they return to Tufts.
Employers also find value in the skills job applicants gain during a service year. To date, there are 475 organizations who are enrolled in the Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) Employers of National Service program. You can view a list of employers who are interested in connecting with national service alumni here.
Myth: Gap years are for people avoiding “real-world” responsibilities.
Gap years spent doing national service aren’t for slackers. AmeriCorps connects over 70,000 Americans with intensive opportunities throughout the country, including over 2,000 programs that focus on education, the environment, public health and safety and homeland security.
During that time, you’re given the opportunity to learn real-world skills that are easily transferable to any role or job you’ll hold in the future. The American Gap Association even found that one of the top outcomes that gap-year takers report is that, "[it] provided me with additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career."
Myth: My parents won't support this decision
It’s a parent’s job to worry about their children, so they will naturally have a lot of questions about gap years. Make sure to hear them out, but also do your research! Here are a few resources that can help you discuss this gap year opportunity with your parents! To help answers all those questions your parents are throwing at you, here are some FAQs.
After that, if your parents still aren’t sure? Why not show them what other parents think about City Year. Nothing convinces a parent more than when another parent tells them exactly what you have been saying the whole time.
Here's what one parent of a City Year AmeriCorp member had to say: "While we supported the idea of a gap year and liked the idea of Jacob being engaged in a social enterprise, we knew very little about City Year and found ourselves doing due diligence during the short time between when he was accepted into the program and when he had to commit.
We became familiar with the website and tried to connect with folks in our lives that may be familiar with City Year. We heard only good things - and then came a particularly powerful endorsement from a family friend who is now the president of a Midwestern University. He said that he recommends a gap year for most high school graduates as they are better prepared for college and the college is better prepared for them, particularly men. Then he added, “City Year is the gold standard for gap year programs.”
Editorial Note: This post was originally published in September 2016, when Malia Obama announced she was taking a gap year before heading to Harvard University in 2017. It has been revised and updated here.