Malia Obama, President Obama's oldest daughter, will be attending Harvard. However, she won't be attending until 2017. In doing so, she'll be deferring college until after her father leaves office.

"Malia will take a Gap Year before beginning school," said the White House's official statement. In fact, these Gap Years are becoming increasingly popular, both by students and institutions, Harvard among them.

Another (far less famous) young person who took advantage of the Gap Year concept is Justin Lafazan. He was accepted into the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and deferred admission one Gap Year to explore business passions. He has since founded Millennial Marketing Strategy, a full-service digital strategy firm, and worked with organizations including SXSW, Morgan Stanley, USA Today, as well as countless entrepreneurs. He's a forthcoming author and a TEDx and corporate speaker on the topics of entrepreneurship, life design, education gaps, and digital strategy.

All of this would be impressive for a 40 year-old, but Lafazan just turned 19.

"I wanted to be an entrepreneur long before I wanted to run a company," says Lafazan. "From an early age, I wanted something different than what was currently offered; I yearned to create opportunities and solve problems." He was unhappy with the status quo: the way classes were run, the college admissions process, the way brands wanted to reach his generation, the way entrepreneurs helped each other, and on the list goes on. As a result, he deferred admission to Wharton, as he wanted something different.

Embracing the idea of the gap year offered Lafazan a vital experimentation period - a time to figure out what the best uses of his time and what his calling might be. As a young entrepreneur, he was allowed to fail in a way that more experienced entrepreneurs cannot. "Because of my ability to fail, I can take giant risks," he admits. If he fails, he figures, his backup is heading back to math class with his peer group- in which case he'll essentially be right back on track. It's a win-win, because while he can always fall back on the college plan. But, right now he believes he's in a position to learn business skills he wouldn't be able to refine in college.

While Lafazan may not return to school, 90 percent of students who took a Gap Year returned to college within a year. Recovery from the competition of high school as well as yearning "to find out more about themselves," are the two biggest reasons students take gap years, according to a survey of 280 students who opted for a gap year. Travel and volunteering are two other big reasons why students opt for Gap Years at an increasing rate; in fact, the American Gap Association has reported that participation in gap-year programs rose 27% between 2012 and 2013.

Despite the growing trend, no one should get the impression that those in their Gap Year are treated the same as college grads. "For every client I develop, there is a CEO that has laughed at my proposal because I didn't have a college degree," says Lafazan.

"Don't do it because it's sexy," stresses Lafazan. As a matter of fact, students need to think about their own personal circumstances when making the Gap Year decision. Just because it's right for Malia Obama, it may not be right for you or your kid--but, increasingly, a Gap Year is something that young people ought to at least consider.

 

 

Published on: May 1, 2016
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