Five Reasons YOU Should Take A Year Off of High School

Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu, Rwanda. Photo Credits: Haili Kong

In high school, words like “super-senior” and “great choice” rarely seem to tango. And initially, this distinction makes sense. We define success in high school in a generally linear way: get in, get good grades, cry at prom, graduate, and bam. 4 years later. Success.

Increasingly, however, students are wondering whether this four year, one high school system is right for them.  The number of students who are taking gap years after high school has risen dramatically over the past decade (At Harvard by more than 33%). And, as gap years become more common in the U.S., their growth overshadows another growing trend - students taking time off during high school.

But why should you consider taking time off of high school? Is it worth the risk? And, perhaps most importantly, are super-seniors in anyway related to super-saiyan?

Though my hair did not turn a luxurious gold, I did spend a year as a super senior. After my junior year of high school, I took a year off to become an exchange student in Taiwan. And though, I don’t think taking time off of school is for everyone, for me personally it meant I could travel, learn a foreign language, and eat more Bok Choi than I once thought humanly possible. In other words, it was the best decision of my life. To repeat, taking a year off in high school is not for everyone. But for students who have initiative, self-discipline, and a yearn to try something new, I’m here to say you should. This list is for you.

Five Reasons YOU Should Take a Year Off of High School. 


1. You’ll have an incredible life experience     

          No doubt about it, this is the real reason you should take a year off. Taking a risk to do something you love is always life changing. Doing so when you’re 16 or 17 means that you’ll make a habit of following your passion. If you want to do something, don’t wait until the indefinite “when I’m older” - do it now. You’ll become the person you want to be.


2. You come back ahead of your classmates.        This may initially sound counterintuitive. “But I’m a year older than my classmates? How could I be ahead?”. Luckily, however, you are entering a stage where your grade level matters much more than your age. When you are competing with other people, the question is not how old you are, but in what stage of life you’re in. A recent study by Middlebury College showed that students who took time off in or before college had a higher GPA than their peers by .15 to .2. Though this study has not been done with high school students, if you take your year off seriously you’ll come back with experience you can apply in school, college, and the rest of your life. Which leads to…


3. Taking a year off helps you stand out.         Now this reason superficially sounds lame and resume focused. But if you’re considering taking a year off, you already are someone who will take a risk for what he/she believes. Taking that risk simply proves to others that you do hold that trait. There is nothing wrong with wanting to show others that you are adventurous or risk-taking. Don’t skirt around this reason because it sounds too resume-focused. It is a real reason you should use to convince parents and counselors that taking time off in high school is a serious option.


4. Your mid to late-teens is the best time to learn.        In terms of full-on immersion, the earlier the better. Studies of foreign language acquisition show that your ability to pick up foreign sounds tends to plauteau at around 18-19. Though you are by no means “old” in college, you don’t quite have the malleability to learn as you would as an earlier teen. As a 15,16, or 17 year-old you have the best of both worlds; you are mature enough to live on your own but you are young enough to fully embrace the experience you’re having.


5. You can focus on what you want.         Finally, this is an opportunity to learn whatever you want.  Matt Wu - a fellow sophomore at Harvard - also decided to take a year off of high school. Instead of traveling abroad, however, he spent his post-freshman year practicing piano. During that time he played 8 hours a day and explored whether he wanted to become a professional musician. With a year off, you can do the same. Focus on something you love or explore something you’ve never been able to. The year is yours. (just make sure you’ve decided “what” that thing is before you begin.)

Ultimately, I want this post to make students and parents think about the benefits of taking time off in high school. However, I do not say this lightly. Taking a year off is a big decision - and in order for it to be a good one, you need to work hard during that year.  A terrible decision would be to take a year off to live in the same way you do now (whether that be in a different city or not). You need to plan what you’re doing and you need to have goals. But, if you decide to take that challenge, I know nothing that could be as rewarding.

It’s a hard choice to make; so, if you, or anyone you know is struggling with this decision -  I would love to talk to them.  Please leave a comment on the blog and I will get back to you/them within a day.

Finally, here are two awesome high school programs that you should check out/share with any students you know with an adventurous spirit.


ROTARY YOUTH EXCHANGE The program I did when I was in Taiwan. Rotary clubs exist around the world and help sponsor high school students study abroad for a year. The cost is heavily subsidized by the clubs - generally around $3000-$4000 for the year. In order to apply, contact your local rotary club. Generally application season is around October of the year before you leave.

UWC  An incredible two year international boarding school. Open for applications for sophomores and juniors. UWC founded the International Baccalaureate program and will also give a full scholarship to any student that is accepted. Applications begin in November and close in December. I highly recommend speaking to rising sophomores and juniors about the opportunity.