GAPS AND GOWNS: SHOULD YOUR HIGH SCHOOL GRAD TAKE A GAP YEAR?

Graduation season is wrapping up: from kindergarten to law and medical school, students of all ages are celebrating these milestones and starting their summer vacations.

Most American high school graduates will head to college in the fall: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70% of students in the graduating class of 2016 were enrolled in colleges or universities as of October of that year.

But in a tradition that is already common overseas, an increasing number of grads are taking a pause to step away from the classroom for a year before pursuing higher education. Known as a “gap year,” this period is often dedicated to broadening horizons through international travel, gaining hands-on experience volunteering or working in a field of interest, or pursuing other meaningful activities that prepare students to navigate adulthood. Surveys conducted by the Portland-based American Gap Association estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 students participate each year, and that participation increased about 22 percent in 2015.

Students aren’t the only ones embracing the gap year trend: certain colleges and universities openly encourage it, and some offer programs to help students plan their gap year activities. The benefits of a well-spent gap year can include a better understanding of one’s interests and goals, a more mature perspective, and even higher academic performance.

HighTower CEO Elliot Weissbluth agrees that there are some things you just can’t learn in the classroom. His advice to grads? Get out of your comfort zone, get your hands dirty, and learn what it really takes to change the world.

If you have kids approaching their college years, think about encouraging them to consider a gap year, or some other period of exploration. A college degree is valuable—but perspective may be even more so.