High school graduation is rapidly approaching, but your senior is totally burned out, with no clue what comes next. Until he finds better focus and direction, the reality of paying tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition seems like a bad idea. If this sounds familiar, read on to discover how a gap year might offer your student an alternate route to higher education.
What is a gap year?
A gap year is a one-year break from traditional studies, typically taken either between high school and college, or between undergraduate and graduate programs.
While quite common in many other countries, taking a gap year is still an unusual practice in the United States. Recent trends indicate a gain in popularity—perhaps due to increased academic and social pressures in modern day high schools.
“A gap year presents endless possibilities,” says Dianna Hahn, associate director of Gap Year Association. “Students may choose to work, intern, travel, volunteer, care for a loved one or pursue a new skill.”
Many universities now offer deferred enrollment to incoming students; several, including Harvard and Princeton, encourage such breaks.
What are the pros?
“Taking a gap year affects students in all different ways, positively influencing everything from their personal growth and maturity, to their academic experiences in college, and even their readiness and confidence in career decisions,” says Hahn.
Yoni Kruvi, a former San Dieguito Academy student, is spending a year in Thailand teaching kids English. To date, he has experienced many of these beneficial outcomes.
“I was hoping for an experience where I could live more independently and grow, as well as give back to a community,” Kruvi says. “I earn my own money, rent my own apartment.” He discovered a love for teaching, but also recognized an underlying desire to pursue a career in performing arts and has applied to schools while away.
A gap year often gives students a deeper understanding of the world. Savier Morales from City Heights spent a year in Ecuador. He lived with a local family while apprenticing at both a women’s shelter and an organic strawberry farm.
“I learned more about the world, life and how to live than all my schooling put together,” Morales reflects. He is now a freshman at College of the Atlantic, studying Human Ecology.
Former Leucadia resident Megan Levin was burned out after senior year, and has always loved languages.
“I thought that getting a chance to travel and experience a new culture would be just the way to get re-energized before college,” she says. For Levin, it’s been even more than that. She deferred college enrollment in order to study Hindi in India. She plans to pursue international relations at Wesleyan University next year. “If I hadn’t come to India, I wouldn’t have realized my potential interest in public health and I most likely wouldn’t have thought of a career in foreign-service.”
What are the cons?
Many parents have concerns that if their student takes a gap year, he will get off track and not go to college as planned. According to information provided by the Gap Year Association, this is actually the exception; 90 percent return to college within a year.
Students often worry that they will fall behind peers who take more traditional paths, or find their academic skills rusty when they return.
“Bob Clagett, former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, conducted research studying gap year students and their more traditional peers, and found that gap year students outperformed their peers when it came to GPA scores once enrolled in college,” shares Hahn.
Many traveling gap year students have feelings of isolation, since they are far from close friends and family. Kruvi shares this sentiment, but emphasizes the pros outweigh the cons by “tons.”
Perhaps the biggest drawback is that gap years can be very expensive. Hahn recommends researching financial aid, scholarships and grants, fundraising, and working with a gap year counselor to arrange for work-study, home stays, and other cost-saving options.
If your student isn’t interested in taking a gap year, then he shouldn’t be pressured into taking one; after all, a major aspect of the experience is making personal decisions.
For more information, visit www.gapyearassociation.org.
Gap Year Programs
The following organizations coordinate a variety of grants, scholarships, federal financial aid and even college credit. Please note that international travel is limited right now (2020), but there are still many great programs available.
Americorps City Year
Americorps National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC)
Carpe Diem Education
Gap Year Association
Global Citizen Year
Travel Access Project
Contributing writer, Lisa Pawlak, is an Encinitas resident and mom of two teens.
Published April 2018