During our college consultations, the subject of the gap year has become an increasingly common topic.
Conceptually, the gap year seems attractive: the high school graduate takes a year to develop himself further before heading to college. Greater maturity, independence, and experience are almost always developed. Freshmen who took a gap year are in a better position to handle the challenges of being away from home.
Students can build their resume and reapply to colleges; work to save money; and travel or do something else experientially interesting simply to develop themselves. It also represents one of the few times in life that one has the opportunity to take such time.
There are several big challenges to the gap year. The first is psychological. “All my friends are going to college. I’ll feel like I’m falling behind.” A student from Waterford, CT recently told me. “Behind what?” I asked.
The second can be financial. Post graduate years at prep schools are commonly construed as gap years but, I think of PG years in a separate category. I don’t see how another year of school can be considered a gap. Its really a 5th year of high school. Nonetheless, some gap year options such as biking across Europe or other adventures that private companies offer for gap year experiences can be expensive. On the other hand, some gap year experiences are volunteer in nature – AmeriCorps being a popular one – and do not entail cost. Moreover, it could be that parents have an extra year to save for college and that, at least part of the year, the student can work to save money.
The third and biggest challenge is creative. “What should I do for my gap year?” several students from Guilford, CT recently asked when we had gathered to discuss the gap year.
The creative process while challenging also holds opportunity. “Whatever you can create” is the real answer. I have helped past volunteer in Africa, intern at Yale, backpack through the Appalachian Trail, and a host of other fascinating self-created gap years.
Sounds pretty good to me. I wonder if I can create a gap year for myself!