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It’s the most wonderful time of the year – application season. For many in their final year of their undergraduate degree, this is a time for intense research, creating relationships with potential supervisors, beefing up résumés, and improving grades to meet academic requirements. It’s no wonder then that many students consider taking a break.
A gap year means something different to each person. It can mean a year off school to travel or to work and earn money or even to go back to school and take some classes out of interest that your degree may not have allowed time for.
For the majority of us students who did not take a gap year between finishing high school and entering university, we’ve been schooling non-stop since we were potty-trained. This amount of intense work and often prolonged stress is bound to take a toll on our mental health. Gap years may very well help students avoid academic burnout.
Beyond providing a well-deserved break, gap years host a myriad of positive benefits. They allow students to gain experiences that are beyond what the confines of the campus can offer. These experiences can then be used to supplement what was taught in the classroom to make student applicants stand out from the crowd.
Why the hesitation then to take a gap year? I have been told by friends that they fear the gap year because they fear they will enjoy it too much and as a consequence, lose any motivation to continue in academia. Graduate school is hard work. The same can be said for professional school and entering the workforce.
I argue that if you are truly secure in your goals, then you’ll see them through despite the promise of the gruelling work they require. If a year off school is enough to lose motivation in attaining a goal, that goal is likely not a reflection of your true desires.
Ultimately, that is what a gap year is meant for. It’s the optimal time for self-reflection and to discover what you truly want from life – and that may not include the graduate program that you’re planning on enrolling in.
The fear that taking a year off school may be frowned upon by application and hiring boards is a valid fear but ultimately unfounded. Many schools recognize the value of time spent away from school. The University of British Columbia has the option to defer graduate studies for up to one year. Even Harvard University encourages students to defer their acceptance to the university and take the time to mature as a person. Taking a break after working to achieve an undergraduate degree no longer carries the stigma of weakness or laziness
Where I’ll be a year from now remains a mystery. I may be happily enrolled in graduate school or on route to some far-away destination. I’m planning for both, and others should too.