Discovering the Gap Year
By: Robin Pendoley and Kathy Cheng
A “gap year” is typically a period between completing high school and beginning college. This time can be either a semester or a full year away from traditional classroom studies.
While there are countless reasons to consider a gap year, the most important is that gap year students are generally better prepared for college. Well-structured gap years provide opportunities to develop personal and social maturity, academic focus, and a sense of direction. With studies showing as many as 50% of college freshmen dropping out before graduation, it is clear that opportunities for this type of growth can be crucial.
Beyond preventing dropping out, gap years can help ensure students get the most out of their college years. Recently, an admissions director at a prominent liberal arts college told me that analysis showed gap year students on his campus performing significantly better in the classroom and the college community than those who enrolled on the normal track.
What does a typical gap year look like?
Gap years come in all shapes and sizes. They can include participating in an organized program, working or interning in a field of interest, volunteering with a local or national organization, pursuing athletics, or traveling.
This time away from a traditional classroom provides students of all types crucial opportunities to:
- Gain “real world” perspective and direction that give the college years meaning and purpose
- Develop maturity and independence by joining professional communities as a volunteer or employee
- Attain the deep understanding of our local and global society that traditional schooling rarely provides
- Pursue various fields of interest to test or define a career path
Should I consider a gap year?
EVERY high school senior should consider a gap year. The benefits listed above make a good case for it. Yet, many students and families believe there are lots of reasons not to take a gap year. Let’s take a moment to dispel the MYTHS that stop them from taking a look at gap year options:
- They are too expensive – Gap year opportunities range from those that cost the same as a year of college to those that will pay you a stipend and an education award to participate. EVERYONE can afford a gap year.
- They are only for students who aren’t ready for college – Programs and individual options vary greatly, offering opportunities for essential learning and growth for all types of students.
- There is a strong risk that students won’t go back to school – While there is always this risk, experts with decades of experience in the field estimate that 90-95% of gap year students who were on a college track go back to school immediately following their time away from the classroom.
For more information on gap years, please see the following:
- MSNBC article about gap years in the US
- www.usagapyearfairs.org offers information about a broad range of options
- Harvard’s Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons, on why he supports gap years