Malia Obama made headlines earlier this week not because she chose Harvard as her college of choice but because she is deferring her start date to September 2017 after taking advantage of a gap year.
The coverage around her decision got me thinking about my own experience. I too took a year off before my college year and I traveled the world with the international group Up with People. I don’t think we called it a gap year back then, but I’m sure glad I had that experience.
My year away gave me an opportunity to grow up – something I desperately needed to do. My travels and experiences took me all over the United States and to Scandinavia. I only had one opportunity to go back home during the year, a 2-week Christmas break. But because we ended our tour in the beautiful country of Norway, I decided to stay in country for those two weeks, even though it meant spending time away from family, friends, and everything else that was familiar to me during that Christmas season.
A Better Person Because Of It
Spending an entire year away from home and delaying the start of my college experience was well worth it. Fred A. Hargadon, former Dean of Admissions at Princeton University is quoted as saying:
I am convinced that one’s college education is greatly enhanced by the maturity, experience, and perspective a student can bring [post gap year].
This was certainly the case for me. I came back a more mature and confident person with a broader appreciation for the world around me. My time in Up with People changed the trajectory of my life in many ways – all of them positive. I’m convinced that Malia’s gap year – whatever she decides to do during this time – will have a positive impact on her life story.
My parents encouraged, and supported, my gap year and I am grateful for the sacrifices they made to make it work.
Now it’s my turn … My eldest child is one year away from making a decision about where he’ll pursue his post-secondary education. I know one thing, if he decides to take a gap year, I’ll be there to support him.