Unless you live under a rock, you know President Obama's oldest daughter, Malia, will be attending Harvard in the Fall of 2017. 2017? The first daughter will be taking a gap year before attending Harvard. Like any decision the first family makes, this one generated a lot of buzz. There was praise.
Accusations of privilege:
And speculation over her gap year:
According to the Washington Post, gap years have been popular in Britain and are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Jacksonville's News4JAX network says students take advantage of gap years to travel abroad, volunteer or study other cultures or career programs. Washington Post says it gives students “an opportunity to travel, explore different interests, and gain experience and maturity before beginning college.”
When I heard of the gap year decision, gap year to me meant rich students taking time off to travel and do rich people things. CBS News affirmed my belief, citing a more expensive gap year at $50,000. However, they also say a low-cost gap year may be about $4,000 and Washington Post offers myriad options, including some with stipends to offset the costs of the gap year.
On its website, Harvard "encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way." Including Harvard, about 160 colleges support gap years. Harvard's reasoning is to alleviate the high-pressure environment that K-12 schooling has become. The academic demands along with extracurriculars can become too much for students to handle. Harvard wants to ensure that students come in prepared for a meaningful experience.
A study done by Middlebury College states that students who have taken gap years have consistently higher GPA's than those who did not take gap years. Also, in a self-reported study by the American Gap Association, students reported these benefits:
Despite some misconception, it seems Malia has the right idea.
Lead Image Credit: Harvard, via Flickr Creative Commons