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Mind the Gap

Malia Obama recently became a famous representative of a Millennial trend, The Gap Year.  Defined as a “year-off” between high school and starting college, most “Gap Year-ians” aren’t just loafing around, playing video games and drinking Bobo teas all day.  For a generation raised on scheduled play-dates, year-round athletics, and regimented community service activities, the gap year is similarly purposeful and structured.

The New York Times stated:

In deferring her start date until 2017, Malia, 17, is availing herself of the opportunity to take a “gap year,” a popular option for high school seniors who are seeking experiences outside the classroom — some in far-flung parts of the world — before they begin pursuing a degree.

Many students want a “break” from the prescribed learning that comes in the standardized curriculum of many modern high schools and will continue with the required General Education (i.e. G.E.) classes once joining most colleges and universities.  Although gap year activities are constrained by the responsibilities of an internship or the service project in an international location, the natural uncertainties of life can feel less constraining to a maturing adult freed from the confines of school.

The Guardian reported:

Harvard encourages new admissions to take a “gap year” before or during their undergraduate years, so that the students can pursue work experiences outside of school. For the school’s most famous new freshman, the year off could mean less attention when she does start classes in 2017, and time to build her resume.

First lady Michelle Obama has said that Malia hopes to become a film-maker, and that she worked last summer in New York as an intern on the set of the HBO show Girls. She spent the previous summer as a production assistant for CBS, and held previous internships at the National Zoo in Washington.

The Gap Year can help students focus once they arrive in college; they’re more knowledgable about themselves as human beings.  In addition, they’re able to better determine what subjects aren’t interesting to them, since they were freed from compulsory academic breadth requirements of school curriculums. Lastly, a greater self-awareness can create confidence, which can help young people weather the challenges of college.

From The Washington Post:

An essay co-authored by Harvard’s dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, titled “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation,” suggested that the constant “chase for the prize” has deprived America’s young people of the breaks they need while growing up, and problems can develop once they start college.

“Faced with the fast pace of growing up today, some students are clearly distressed, engaging in binge drinking and other self-destructive behaviors,” he and two colleagues wrote, noting that students themselves have suggested that a break after high school can be a remedy. “It can be structured or unstructured, and directed toward career, academic or purely personal pursuits. Most fundamentally, it is a time to step back and reflect, to gain perspective on personal values and goals, or to gain needed life experience in a setting separate from and independent of one’s accustomed pressures and expectations.”

Malia Obama may just be another Millennial taking advantage of an increasingly promoted option by the colleges themselves. The Washington Post continues: 

Harvard and many other prestigious U.S. schools now encourage applicants to consider taking a “gap year” before starting college to alleviate the stress and burnout that often result from their pressure-filled high school years.

Universities including Princeton, Tufts and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have formal gap-year programs, which give students the option of participating in a structured year of service abroad or in the United States, depending on the school.

Yet, her high profile as a President’s daughter, may  encourage others to stop and smell the roses, as she lives out the benefits of a Gap Year in the public eye.