Are gap years helpful?

Tasha Hall, Campus Life Reporter

When you move from high school to college, and then maybe from college to graduate school, you may wonder whether you should take a break from academics. Some people worry this break will cause one to lose interest in school altogether. For those who do not know what career they want to pursue, or for those who need a break following major stressors – like a pandemic – gap years are a key solution. Taking a gap year can be healthy. 

Director of the Intercultural Center Tebraie Banda-Johns has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Biola University and a master’s degree in higher education. Before his master’s degree, he felt he needed a break from education to mentally prepare himself. 

“I just needed a break from school, also to work and make some extra money, get myself together and prepare myself for grad school,” Banda-Johns said. 

His family and friends encouraged his break, supporting him as long as he was doing well and able to support himself. He found this time allowed him to think more about what he wanted in his future. 

“It was good for my mental health to take a year from undergrad to grad school and just to check in with myself and what my goals were in life,” Banda-Johns said. 

In the STEM field, gap years are often supported. Professor of Biology Heidi Dobson took multiple gap periods during her college years. Her first gap was a full year break after her first year that was taken for financial reasons. She spent a year vagabonding, working on farms, exploring life and learning how to get on on her own.

“I went back to Switzerland, and I worked in a shoe store for quite a while. Then I worked for the International Organization for Civil Defense,” Dobson said. “It was a good break.” 

She was ready to go back to school after that year. She felt let down with how businesses worked and presented themselves. 

“I was fired up and ready to get back,” Dobson said. “I was disillusioned with businesses and their lies to the customers, and I was somewhat disillusioned with trying to present oneself a certain way in the organization that I was working with. It gave me a different perspective on diplomacy and the games that are played.” 

Dobson loves the academic field and looked forward to returning to it. 

“I love school. I still do. That’s why I teach; I love learning,” Dobson said. “I love homework. That’s where you engage with the material, and that’s where you’re learning it on your own.” 

Dobson emphasized how everybody has different views on gap years, but it is really up to the student whether they want to follow that route and take a break from academics. 

Senior Abby Munro took two years off between high school and starting college. She had spent two months at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Germany on an internship in the serology and coprology departments, two months in Monkey Bay, Malawi as a medical volunteer and then a year and a half working in her hometown at the University of Glasgow as an administrative assistant helping to investigate the association of the major histocompatibility complex genes to nematode resistance in ruminants.

“I think I emerged from [my gap years] much more secure in who I am and what I wanted,” Munro said. “I felt confident that applying to university was my dream and that I wasn’t doing it for anyone but me.” 

She advises that people should think about the financial impact of taking a gap year. 

“If this seems to be affordable, I would encourage others who are considering it to go for it. There’s no point in comparing ourselves to others. We all have our own path to tread,” Munro said. “Whenever I start to doubt myself, I think of Robert Frost’s beautiful poem, ‘The Road Not Taken,’ which ends with the lines, ‘Two roads diverged in the woods, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.’” 

Gap years can be beneficial in helping a student figure out what they want in life or focusing on their mental health. They shouldn’t be looked down upon because of a divergence from the traditional pathway of high school to college to a graduate program. 

Professor Dobson said it best: “When you’re a student, your job is to learn.” 

If you need to take a mental breather so learning can be most beneficial, then so be it.