Zhou puts on a show at ice skating World ChampionshipsAlthough common in other countries, many Americans hadn’t heard of a “gap year” until Malia Obama made it famous when she opted to take a one-year hiatus between high school and college. Three competitive U.S. skaters—Karen ChenVincent Zhou, and Gabriella Izzo—explain why this was the right decision for them as well.

“I felt it was necessary for me to take [two] gap years and focus on my skating, especially that year being an Olympic year,” 2018 Olympian Chen says. “I didn’t want school to be a distraction. I wanted to make the team and that was my mindset.”

As a pre-med student majoring in human ecology, the Cornell freshman will have a heavy course load this fall in Ithaca, New York. Like many elite athletes, Chen has been homeschooled for much of her childhood. She has not step foot in a traditional classroom since the fifth grade, so she’s looking forward to learning amongst peers again.

Chen hopes to find …

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