What Is A Gap Year? Malia Obama Has Chosen A Course That's Swiftly Gaining Popularity

US President Barack Obama and daughter Malia make their way to board Air Force One before departing from Chicago OHare International Airport in Chicago on April 7, 2016. Obama is heading to Los Angeles to attend fundraisers. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

May 1 is National College Decision Day, and on Sunday, First Daughter Malia Obama finally made her announcement about where she will be headed in the fall — and it's not to college. The Office of the First Lady announced Sunday morning that Malia will take a gap year, aka a year off from school in between high school and college. But don't worry — Malia does have plans to attend college. In fact, she'll be heading to Harvard University in the fall of 2017, the same university where both her parents attended law school.

"The President and Mrs. Obama announced today that their daughter Malia will attend Harvard University in the fall of 2017 as a member of the Class of 2021. Malia will take a gap year before beginning school," read the rare statement from the White House's East Wing.

For many kids who decide to take gap years, the appeal of postponing school is to get the opportunity to travel, or work to save up money, but Malia arguably might have a different motivator. She'll get to really experience the last few months of her father's time in the White House, and not have to worry about school on top of all that. That said, the statement didn't point to what Malia would be doing during her gap year — working, traveling, a combination, or something entirely different — so it's anybody's guess what Malia's plans are.

There isn't a lot of hard evidence about how many kids take gap years in the U.S., but there is data that suggests the trend is growing. Either way, many experts say that the break from school can be very good for a student before entering college. When a kid gets the chance to travel, work, or volunteer for a year before bolting right back into school, they often become more focused and ready for college when they enter their university. "When I got to college, I was calmer and didn't go through that adjustment period that my classmates did. I was excited to be there," Virginia Tech student Izzy Siemon-Carome told The Washington Post last year. Siemon-Carome took a gap year after graduating high school in 2011, and participated in the National Outdoor Leadership School program, a 78-day trip where kids learn about wilderness survival, one of hundreds of programs that helps graduating high school seniors structure and get the most of out of their gap year.

The choice to take a gap year isn't for everyone, but it is an enticing option for anyone considering a less traditional educational path. Whatever Malia Obama decides to do with her gap year, it's likely to help her become an even better student when she begins at Harvard in 2017.

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