It’s called the “gap year” and it’s growing in popularity. Instead of starting college right after high school, a student takes a year to work or volunteer or participate in an organized program that can lead to admission to a university. Once considered a route that reflected a lack of commitment or willingness to put in the hard work that college requires, the “gap year” is now seen as a way to avoid wasting tuition on a young person who isn’t really sure of the correct path. Since I spent my first year in college trying to figure out what to pursue, I really see the value in this.

Bob Clagett, a former director of admissions at Middlebury College, says taking a gap year can help students gain a renewed focus on academics. “By stepping off the treadmill, they frequently remind themselves of what their education is all about,” he says. “They kind of reinvent themselves.”

He’s done research to back up the claim. At Middlebury, students who took gap years were found to have higher GPAs than those who didn’t, even when controlling for things like wealth and high school achievement. A study at the University of North Carolina yielded similar results.