Malia Obama’s decision to take a “gap year” between high school graduation and college has sparked a national dialogue about the growing trend. Is it a good idea or not? The experts weigh in.

“Most colleges and universities look favorably upon the gap year concept and encourage students to maximize their potential through unique opportunities,” says Stephanie Espina, director of freshmen admissions at Adelphi University in Garden City.

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  • Pros: A year spent volunteering, traveling, shadowing a professional, doing an internship or working full-time can better prepare students for college. Students can use the additional time and money to build their college fund and continue investigating their career choice by working in their field as an intern or at an entry-level position. Better still if the employer will help pay the tab for their education.
  • Cons: There’s the argument though, that time off can have a negative impact. For students who fail to develop important organizational habits, it might be easy to lose focus and fall out of the academic routine, points out Thomas Jaworsksi, an educational consultant in Prospect Heights, Illinois.

No doubt, a gap year can be abused and little accomplished. Says Sean Moore, founder of SMART College Funding in Boca Raton, Florida, “You need a plan for how you’ll spend the year. If you don’t, you’re wasting time.”

But while perception may be that a student will fall behind their peers, the opposite has generally been found to be true, says Charles Knippen, president of The National Society for Leadership and Success in Hoboken, New Jersey.