What is a gap year?
A gap year is a period of time, often between high school and college, deliberately designed to foster greater self-awareness, independence, perspective, and sense of purpose. The gap year (or shorter) often involves volunteer work, travel, skill development, and/or career exploration, but the options are endless. The notion of a gap year has been common in other parts of the world, particularly the U.K. and other parts of Europe, for decades and is building in popularity in the United States.
Why take a gap year?
Students who undertake a gap year generally return with greater maturity, major/career focus, and college readiness. College graduates taking a gap year before employment or graduate school have one “last” opportunity to explore and learn outside of the classroom or office. These opportunities don’t arise often and should be carefully considered!
Do not be fooled by the word “gap.” A year of exploration, discovery, and service can have an extraordinary, lasting, and positive impact. In fact, many leading colleges now actively encourage their accepted students to consider a gap year before their freshman year. Research has shown that students who take a gap year bring greater focus and maturity with them to campus. A study conducted at Middlebury College showed that students who undertook a gap year before entering college maintained a higher GPA when compared to similar peers.
Students take gap years for many different reasons. Some examples are:
Passion: Do you have a passion, hobby or skill you want to explore further, but might not pursue in college? Maybe you study martial arts and want the chance to challenge yourself, go in-depth, and see what you can achieve and learn about yourself?
Focus: Are you seeking clarity on personal interests, potential careers, or areas of study? A gap year can help you explore those in “real-world” settings before you invest a semester or more in studying something that might not really fit for you.
Perspective: Take the opportunity to gain greater perspective by experiencing novel places and cultures whether domestically or internationally. In the increasingly global and diverse world we live in getting outside of your comfort zone and experiencing more of the world adds breadth and depth to understanding and personal engagement.
Independence: Let’s face it. Being independent in your family home doesn’t always work, but a solid set of independence skills and experiences definitely translates into a smoother transition and greater readiness for college or career. A gap year provides the opportunity to build independence and a sense of oneself apart from family and your home community.
Skills: Do you feel you would benefit from time to build specific skills that will be useful to you going forward?
Break from routine: Do you have a desire to experience and learn outside of the classroom before beginning the next stage of your life? Have you been cranking it out for years and want to experience a different setting and pace before you plunge back in?
What are some examples of gap year activities and programs?
Common options are listed below. It is important to remember that most opportunities could be pursued domestically or internationally.
- Group-based cultural immersion or experiential programs (domestic or international)
- Internship or skill based experiences
- Service learning/volunteering
- Work in exchange for room and board
- Personal travel
Can I afford a gap year?
A GAP AWAY is committed to helping any student who wants to have the benefits of a gap year realize that dream. We will work with you to set a budget, look for scholarships, identify cost-neutral options, and find a way to develop a gap year plan that results in the realization of your personal goals and vision without breaking the bank.
Some programs come with a higher price tag – generally those are well staffed, structured and established programs with a strong history of results. However, many gap year students tailor their own year of activities, often including a stretch of paid employment, with equally strong results and a much lower price tag. That is the beauty and creativity of gap year planning – the options are vast.
As a high school student, when do I begin planning for a gap year?
Of course every student’s process will vary somewhat, but generally students apply first to college, with a plan to request a deferral, and then begin working on their gap year planning. It is a good idea to investigate deferral policies at each college you are applying to; most, but not all, colleges will work with gap year student deferral requests. After your college applications are complete it is time to get going with your planning. Have you:
- Talked with your parents?
- Set a budget?
- Established a vision?
- Established goals?
These steps ought to precede the research and shopping for programs. For more information on how to approach planning contact A GAP AWAY!