Why Harvard Encourages Gap Years

Now that Malia Obama is planning to take a gap year after high school and before starting college at Harvard University in 2017, some questions arise: What exactly do students do while on a gap year? What do colleges think of them?
The answers are: There are myriad options for students who have the resources to take a gap year — though they do not have to be expensive. And some colleges actually encourage admitted students to take a gap year.
Harvard encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way — provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college. 
Many students choose to spend their gap year in structured programs volunteering abroad or in the United States. There are also many opportunities to explore interests in the environment, arts, and other cultures. These broad categories range from studying at the International Culinary Center in New York, to performing musical stage performances in multiple countries while living with host families with Up With People, to building trails in state parks with the Student Conservation Association.
Student Conservation Association