Consider the Gap Year
Increasingly, students are opting to take a gap year between high school and college (American Gap Association). The gap year, if approached in a structured way with specific goals, can provide students with wonderful opportunities. Internships, study abroad, and cultural experiences can provide students with tremendous personal growth. Parents, if you are concerned that colleges will perceive the gap year as a waste of time, or even worse – that taking a year off will prove detrimental in the admissions game, fear not. Even the most elite colleges support structured, meaningful gap year experiences. The article “Time out or Burn Out,” provides a perspective from Harvard University: “Harvard’s daily student newspaper, The Crimson, reported that students who had taken a year off found the experience ‘so valuable that they would advise all Harvard students to consider it.’”
A gap year isn’t for every student, that is true. However, there are some students who fit the profile for a gap year more than others. In one category, there are the high achievers. As “Time out or Burn Out” points out, students are put under tremendous pressure, often from pre-school on: “The pace of the day and the year allows little time simply “to be a kid”—or, it seems, to develop into a complete human being.” The gap year will not be a panacea to such pressures, but it can provide some welcome relief, for at least a period of time. For those of you with “type A” high-achieving students, it is likely that your child’s academic path will be long. Those pursuing medical degrees or doctoral programs, for example, should clearly consider taking a break while it is possible to do so. After all, one cannot take a break in the middle of Residency.
A gap year can be an excellent choice for students who lack maturity and practical world experience. We have all heard of young adults who enter college without even knowing how to cook a meal for themselves, take public transportation across town, or do laundry. Imagine the personal growth for such a student, after spending a year, say, teaching English in Peru. Marie Schwartz, CEO and President of TeenLife, references the AGA survey, in which “more than 90 percent of 600 gap students…said their time off from school increased confidence, maturity, communication skills, or the ability to get along with people with backgrounds different from their own.” Those who do embark on gap years fair better in college than their counterparts; they are more confident, more mature, and they know themselves better as a result (American Gap Association). Unfortunately, too many college freshmen enter the university system as anxious young adults – they are unsure of what to study, and feel overwhelmed about the prospect of spending precious time and money while not having any plan for a degree or career.
Parents, there are some practical issues to consider in terms of the gap year. Students should most likely apply to colleges before taking their time off, and communicate to their university of choice that they will be attending one calendar year later. Also, it is vital to check on any scholarships, to ensure eligibility at a later date.