There is no perfect MBA applicant. However, there is a perception of the perfect applicant—an individual who is scaling greater and greater personal, community, and professional peaks, unabated until he/she finally applies. So, those who take time off at any point perceive themselves as disadvantaged. They worry that the admissions committees will see their gaps and dismiss them outright. After all, aren’t there more determined individuals to admit?
It is true that time off can be destructive. If you spend a year on your couch watching reality TV, you are likely in trouble. If you have a strong professional history and spend one month between jobs, sitting on your couch watching reality TV, your record should still speak for itself. But, even if you do take an extended leave, as long as you are productive during this time and you grow personally, you should still be just fine. In fact, an adventure may even add to your story and help you differentiate yourself.
If you spend six months or a year traveling before you start your professional career, you are certainly still eligible for a top MBA program. If you take a personal leave to care for a family member, do charity work, or even pursue a personal passion—an art form, for example—as long as you can show purpose and reveal a broad record of competency, an admissions officer should still see your merits.
Admissions officers are—and this may be surprising to some—human beings. They understand that applicants are not robots and that they have interests, passions, and personal lives. If you make good use of your time, they will not condemn you. They just might envy you.