Anna Gragert
Updated May 02, 2016
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By now, you’ve probably come across the college decision heard ’round the world: Malia Obama will be attending Harvard University – but not before she takes a gap year.

Most high school students don’t have to release an official statement when/if they decide on a college. However, Malia Obama is (evidently) not your average teen. Just yesterday, the White House issued a formal announcement letting the world know that Malia has followed in her parents’ footsteps: “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.” Harvard, among many other colleges and universities, actually encourages such a decision.

While the whole “Harvard University” part of that statement is the main draw, two other words captured our attention instead: “gap year.” In the world of high school – which is stressful enough as it is – college decision time can be panic attack-inducing. In fact, Dr. Sharon Sevier (chair of the board of The American School Counselor Association) reveals, “The competition and pressure on kids have really increased … Many of those ‘right’ schools have stiff admission requirements. Students are challenged to take a demanding course of study, to get a high GPA and gain admission into those schools. So many times, if they are denied, students take it as a personal failure. School is more challenging, the stakes seem to be higher, and pressure is alive and well.”

As young adults, high schoolers are expected to make resolutions they may not yet be prepared for. This is, of course, on top of their regular course loads, standardized tests, extracurriculars, their personal lives, and so much more. That’s why it’s refreshing to hear the President’s daughter taking a different approach.

Though many publications speculate Malia’s gap year choice has to do with her wanting to attend college when her father isn’t President, we think there’s more to it. If you take a moment to look back on your high school career, you’ll most likely remember being stressed out about college decisions. “What do I want to do for the rest of my life?” and “Where do I want to go?” and “Am I really ready to make this decision?” are just a few questions you may recall asking yourself. Though Malia lives a unique life, we imagine that these queries have crossed her mind as well.

By taking a gap year, Malia is setting her own course. She’s making room for self-discovery before she devotes herself to an education as prestigious as the one students receive at Harvard. Whether she decides to travel, volunteer, work, or do something else entirely, this time off will certainly allow Malia to find herself as she aims to make informed decisions about her future.

“At first I wanted a year off because I thought it was going to fun,” stated 18-year-old Jules Arsenault, a high schooler who was interviewed by Time. “But now I realize that it will give me time to figure out what I want to do. I didn’t want to go to college and not know what I want to study, or get a degree just to have one. With what college costs these days, I wanted to get a degree in something that would be useful to me.”

Despite the fact that Malia Obama has the money and resources to make her gap year the best it can be, we’re hoping that this decision opens the doors for many other students. If a well-known young woman like Malia Obama feels the need to step away from school, then maybe the schools, universities, parents, and educators of this world will take the hint:

Students need (and deserve) time to find themselves before mapping out the rest of their lives.