I started looking at colleges when I was still in elementary school. Obviously, as a third grader, I didn’t understand much of what I was looking at. But I did understand that it was expected that I go to college by my teachers, my family and by society. As I got older, and the college hunt got more serious, it revolved around not just about where I would go to school, but when I would go.

Taking a semester or a year off of school is perceived in America as lazy, a shirking of responsibilities or an indication that a person has no real intentions of ever going to college in the first place. Students are expected to be in and out of college in four years, or three if you’re really dedicated and ready to settle into the next 40 plus years of life as professionals.

But this isn’t the case in most of the rest of the world. Students from Denmark or France, Australia or Israel are encouraged to take a year between their “high school” and higher education to gain work experience and to travel. They spend months on end backpacking through Asia or Australia, some venture to Africa or India for extended trips. Others decide to be an au pair in the United Kingdom or the U.S. Some decide to stay at home and work for a year before pursuing a college degree.

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Really, aside from the time between high school and college, when do people truly have time to travel, to spend extended periods of time immersed in different cultures and ways of life? Certainly not after college, when graduates are expected to get a job and begin pulling their weight in society. Definitely not when they have a job that gives them a whopping two weeks of vacation. When they retire, and the pangs of old age affect their ability to walk or to see or to hear?

So why can’t parents in America reconcile the fact that their kids may need to take some time, be it a gap semester or a gap year, to see the world outside of their small hometown or to figure out who they are and what they want to do for the rest of their lives? There’s nothing wrong with an 18 year old deciding they need some time to figure stuff out before spending tens of thousands of dollars a year on a degree in something that they may or may not actually like.

Maybe the fact that college students change their majors so often isn’t as humorous as some adults find it, but instead can be traced to the consistent pressure to forego a gap year and speed through their education, spending a minimum of 17 consecutive years in school just to earn a bachelor’s degree, all without any experience in “the real world.”

More than 400 students from around the world take part in UW’s study abroad programs this fallIn the sea of University of Wisconsin students who returned to campus this fall, UW also welcomed hundreds of exchange students Read…

Maybe the exorbitant amount of stress college students are constantly griping about stems in part from the fact that young adults are pressured into making huge decisions about their careers before they are 100 percent ready.

Gap years allow young adults the ability not only to see more of the world than most people see in their lifetime but the time to find what they are passionate about before deciding upon which area of study they want to pursue in college.

People always say “travel when you’re young”, and it’s about time society took that to heart.

Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in international studies and intending to major in journalism.