We are often asked about the “gap year”.
What is a gap year?
The gap year is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States but an old common practice in Europe.
The term refers to the conscious decision to spend a year in-between high school and college doing something other than traditional school.
Travel, internships, work, and education programs are the likely categories of gap year experiences.
Why would students take a gap year?
1.) Personal Growth:
For parents about to spend $100-200,000 on college, the drop-out rate for college students is utterly frightening.
Why do many students drop out? The student has failing grades due to partying, not turning in work, not attending class and a litany of other excuses that can be categorized as a lack of self-discipline or immaturity.
Gap years, when designed properly, are great opportunities to add experiences that require maturity.
2.) Increased credentials to increase admissions opportunities:
We have worked with several students who had ambitions that did not quite match their grades and test scores. While they were admitted at many schools, they preferred admission at schools with more selective criteria. They used their gap year to build their admissions portfolio with interesting educational experiences, internships and, sometimes, higher test scores.
By fun, we mean “experiential fun”. Such years consist of structured travel through outside programs (such as extended bike trips through Europe) or self-created programs (such as living with a relative in England) provide some relief to students who feel “burned out” or could use a break from competitive pressures.
What are the challenges to taking a gap year?
The biggest hurdle is often the psychological feeling of falling behind one’s high school classmates.
For anyone over 40, the thought of “falling behind” at such a young age seems silly, but, for 17 year olds who are pacing themselves by observing their classmates, this thought is a significant drawback.
The biggest practical hurdles are (1) figuring out what one wants to do and (2) figuring out how it can be done. In terms of figuring out what to do, the creative possibilities make the task both enjoyable and maddening. When given the choice to do anything, most people have difficulty choosing.
When the choice is unconventional such as taking a year off, then the challenge becomes exponentially more psychologically challenging.
On the other hand, those who have the right spirit focused on creating an amazing educational and experiential year soon learn that they are in one of the luckiest spots in life.
They happily create an ideal year. Figuring out how it can be done is also challenging. If we have provided great help in this year, it has been serving as a resource to help design gap year programs.
In sum, while the gap year is not for all, it certainly is an option that many should consider.
After all, when else does life present itself with the gift of time?