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Taking a Gap Year

Mind the Gap: Should Your Student Take a Break Before College?

After teenagers graduate from high school, they may see college looming on the horizon and wonder if they are ready for more school. They might be overwhelmed by the idea of more studying for the next four or more years, or they may need to work a little more on improving their life skills. Either way, a gap year may be just the thing to help your student find direction before they go off to college or join the work force.

A Generation Gap

A gap year can be different things to different people. The concept began in the United Kingdom in the 1970’s because students had almost a year between when they completed their final exams and when they began university classes. The United States did not get behind the idea  until over a decade later, and it has been gaining in popularity ever since. Top colleges, including some Ivy League universities, are encouraging more students to consider a gap semester or year as a way to gain life experience and independence as well as determine a career path or academic focus. Some bridge or fellowship programs have been created by universities in order to help students prepare for a more rigorous and in-depth academic path after core courses have been completed.

Credibility Gap

A gap year is all about options, which can be a good or bad thing. Some of the different avenues to explore can include:

  • Traveling or living abroad to experience new cultures or become fluent in another language
  • Interning or apprenticing to stimulate interest in a field or industry
  • Volunteering and providing community service to people in need, at home or overseas
  • Working to save money for educational and living expenses
  • Completing a post-high school program in order to strengthen academic record prior to college admission

Any of these choices can be appealing to almost any student, regardless of socioeconomic status, background, or learning ability. A gap year can give your child time to make decisions that go beyond an undergraduate degree, focusing instead on long-term goals and life skills. In that time, students gain confidence and independence that can make the transition to college less stressful.

Bridge the Gap

Taking a break from school probably sounds better to students than it does to their parents. The idea is not to sit at home watching television and taking naps. A gap year needs a good plan for success. Students should spend some time brainstorming and defining goals befor taking time off from school for up to a year. They, along with their parents, should:

  • Determine the purpose and objectives
  • Make a budget and a strategy for meeting expenses
  • Create a list of locations for travel or community service
  • Research existing programs or how to create your own
  • Decide on the level of structure you need
  • Set up an emergency or back-up plan
  • Pick a time frame and stick to it

A gap year is not a way of life; students need to research and plan in order to create an opportunity for independent study and life experience.  The internet is an amazing source of information on gap programs and volunteer options if you are not sure where to begin or you want more structure and less risk. You may even be able to find possibilities that exchange volunteer work for room and board, making it an affordable choice that will not eat away at college savings.

Fill the Gap

Parents will be happy to know that colleges are on board with the idea of gap years. Students should conduct their college searches while still in high school in order to take advantage of available resources. They can get help from guidance counselors and obtain letters of recommendation to make application for college admission easier. After they are admitted, they can discuss the possibility of deferring acceptance for up to a year.  Students may also be able to defer some scholarships, although they should expect to reapply for financial aid before enrolling in school. 

With college admission in place, students may find their parents more supportive of a year off. No one wants to see a short break turn into a waste of time or even worse, an excuse to put college on hold. With realistic expectations and goals to achieve, students can make a gap year an enriching experience that can prepare them in college and for the rest of their lives.

 Carolina Academy for Educational Excellence

Ellen Goldman