Local students share why taking a gap year was - and will be - the right choice for them

Coral Mapp was set to attend Old Dominion University to study dance after graduating from Salem High School in Virginia Beach in 2015.

However, Mapp remembered all the times her dance teachers told her that she needed a plan B in case something happened and dance was no longer an option.

She decided to take a gap year.

“I was confused and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Mapp said.

 She working at an after-school program with Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation where she met a deaf student that she connected with. Mapp talked with interpreters and realized that sign language is “communication through movement,” just like dance. Her gap year turned into three years as she figured out her life story. Mapp will be attending Tidewater Community College in the fall to study American Sign Language-English Interpretation.

“Without a gap year, I wouldn’t have found my true passion.”

 A gap year is a year taken between high school and college. According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year helps students learn and grow, allowing them to develop as a person and ultimately be more successful. Colleges like Harvard state that the time spent away from school helps students to be “better prepared to benefit from higher education.” More and more colleges are introducing deferment programs and encouraging students to take a gap year.

 “Students need time outside the academic realm and inside the experiential realm,” said  Ethan Knight, the executive director of the Gap Year Association, which is based in Oregon.

Self-report gap year impacts. Illustration provided by the Gap Year Association.

Like Mapp, Jessica Benner’s gap year became three after she graduated from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach in 2012.

She worked fulltime until she felt she was ready to go back. Her ultimate goal was to return to school but she needed extra time.

“I knew if I went to school, I would be wasting time and money and it would take longer to get a degree,” Benner said.

Benner got her associate degree at Tidewater Community College in 2017 and is now working on her bachelor’s degree in HR Management at Regent University.

“I now know what I’m capable of,” said Benner about taking time off from school.

 “I absolutely 120% would do it again.”

Gap year experiences are different.

For Mckenzie Adams, a gap year meant taking just one class online her senior year at Cox High School in 2017 and spending the rest of her time working and traveling up and down the East Coast.

Adams said that she felt that high school had a judgmental atmosphere and she wanted a different experience.

“I was setting myself to a higher standard,” Adams said. “When you work a lot, you learn to fend for yourself.”

According to a survey done by the Gap Year Association, 93% of students who took a gap year stated that it helped them learn important communication skills.

Adams said that taking personal time and surrounding yourself with the right people during a gap year can lead to a lot of self-growth.

“It is such a good step before college,” said Adams, who is now studying public health at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

For Lillia Thumma, a gap year didn’t come right after high school. Thumma went to James Madison University to study music after graduating in 2015 from Kellam in Virginia Beach and the Governor’s School for the Arts.

But she realized that wasn’t what she wanted; it was just what she was good at.

“College is so different from high school,” Thumma said. “I was so stressed all the time.”

After her freshman year, she took a year off and returned home to Mechanicsville.

 “Being home and working, I learned to appreciate school more,” she said, “you kind of miss it.”

She transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond where she studies psychology and English.

“I realized I can do this now,” she said.

Even for students still in high school, a gap year can be a relief after 18 years of school.

Reneé Maher is a rising senior at First Colonial who plans to take a gap year to build up a photography portfolio, travel and concentrate on personal growth.

“School is all I’ve ever known,” Reneé said, “I want to be independent and learn how to handle things.”