Academic burnout is a growing issue for students across the U.S. Far from being “the best years of our lives,” most will recount that high school was like living on a conveyor belt of SAT tests, extracurriculars, and self-doubts while under extreme pressure to rack up achievements that might help you to stand out from the crowd.
Students graduate with a sigh of relief, hopefully anticipating a future full of opportunities, only to be body-slammed by another four years of even more intense academic pressure. Some students roll with the punches and learn to juggle essays and schedules and “adulting,” but a growing number are being left behind. Anxiety, depression, and even suicide rates skyrocket for US and Canadian teens in their first year of university (www. macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/the-mental-health-crisis-oncampus/). Launching from a high-pressure high school directly into higher-pressure university is proving increasingly difficult for some young people to handle successfully.
But of course, how could a young person ever hope to be successful at life and academia when they haven’t taken the time to decide what ‘success’ looks like to them? Absent self-awareness to inform their choices and life-experience to demonstrate their own particular genius, perhaps the answer to this growing crisis is simple: take some time off, already! Who says that education can’t continue outside of a classroom? Do we really need to immediately follow up the four-years and four-walls of high school with four more years of university? The statistics suggest that we shouldn’t. At our current rate, 53% of university students still have not completed their Bachelors Degree within six years, meaning there’s work to be done. (www.nytimes.com/2016/06/02/upshot/why-college students-drop-out-follow-the-dollars.html) As a way of combating this issue, many universities are beginning to encourage their applicants to take a Gap Year before arrival, citing the many academic and personal benefits that Gap Year alumni possess when entering academia.
The idea of the Gap Year was created with the intention of allowing students time to explore the world, to get in touch with their passions, and to mature before pursuing higher education. It is rare to find high school graduates who truly know what they want for their future. They might have a foggy idea, but most have never experienced enough life outside of their family home to know not only what kindles their fire, but also what they can get paid for and hopefully even what the world needs. The best way to discover a lifelong passion is to get out in the world and explore. Ask questions. Try new things. Learn a new language. Stop worrying about test scores and start worrying about what you truly want to do with the next ten/twenty/thirty years of your life:
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