Do you get tired just thinking about another year of homework and exams? Are you ready for a new adventure–but not the kind that involves buying books and late nights in the lib? While your friends sit through lecture this fall, you could be promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in Vietnam, learning Spanish in Peru, or interning in New York City. How? By taking a gap year. Taking time off before college is a major decision, so let HC help you decide if this road less traveled is right for you.
What is a gap year, exactly?
"Gap time" is a year or semester students take off before enrolling in college. It doesn’t have be time dawdling at home—"gappers" typically work to save money, volunteer, intern, or study a language abroad. Most students elect this time off because they don't feel prepared for college or they're looking for more life experience first. According to Jason Sarouhan, a counselor at Center for Interim Programs, a gap year consulting organization, gap years enable young people to gain more independence and self-empowerment. "The time between high school and college offers the natural opportunity to take a break and to recalibrate one’s focus and centeredness," he says, adding that young people can benefit from structured time away from school or work.
Why consider taking a gap year?
Gap time is meant to revitalize your mind – to avoid the burnout that can accompany immediately taking on more intense coursework. "Gap time is a chance to reconnect with a love of learning and a sense of curiosity about the world," says Sarouhan. Robin Pendoley, the Co-Founder and CEO of the gap year program Thinking Beyond Borders, adds that gap year students gain experience that helps them connect ideas in college – they’re able to better put everything they’ll be studying in context. "Gap year students tend to own their learning and college experience," he said "As a result, they get far more out of the time, energy, and money they invest in college."
How should you expect to grow during your gap year?
However gappers spend their time off, they tend to develop a better idea of how they want to spend the rest of their life. "A well-designed gap year helps students find direction, purpose, and passion for their learning," said Pendoley. "They can return to school with a clear understanding of the opportunity it represents to become an expert in an area the student is truly passionate about and committed to." Pre-collegiettes who go abroad or volunteer at home will even emerge from their gap time with a broadened world view.
Can you afford to take a gap year?
If you choose to work full-time at home during your gap year, you probably won't need to worry about expenses. What about pre-collegiettes hoping to jet off to Asia to volunteer or study Italian in Rome? Gap year advocates like Pendoley opine that price shouldn’t be an excuse to not consider a gap year. Gap year programs typically cost far less than one year of university tuition. Though prices may range from $10,000-$15,000 for a full year program designed by a gap year organization, less costly programs are available. Keep in mind that it's possible to travel and work during your gap year in order to save money for your college years.
Taking a gap year is an untraditional path. How do you tune out the naysayers?
Whether it’s family, friends, or your high school history teacher, you might have to quell some criticisms of your pursuit. Why might they question a gap year? Skewing from the traditional path from high school to college isn’t the norm. So, do your research and debunk skeptics' misconceptions. "With studies showing as many as 30% of college students failing to graduate and the average length of an undergraduate career over 5 years, any investment we make to help students gain the sense of direction and purpose they need in college is a good thing," says Pendoley.
What do collegiettes and pre-collegiettes have to say about their gap years?
Junene Taylor, Indiana University of Pennsylvania ‘14, needed her gap year to realize working a full-time job without a college degree wasn’t for her. "I think that if you know what you want to do straight from high school, you should just go to college and skip the gap year," she said. "If you are confused like I was, then taking a year off can be beneficial to your mental health and get you prepared for the next phase of life."
Makena Sage, Bryant University ’12, who worked part-time in Texas and New York City for her gap year, agrees that it can be both mentally and financially beneficial. "However, students who are just looking to work and party for a year probably aren't great candidates for a gap-year because chances are, they may just keep putting college off until ‘later,’" she says.
Maddie Rothfuss from Laguna Beach, California decided to put off college to study French at the Centre Internationale d’Études Françaises in Western France and would recommend a gap year to any pre-collegiette. "Living in a foreign country and experiencing a different culture and lifestyle firsthand has changed my perspective of our world completely," she says. "I feel so much more prepared now to begin college and be successful, and I've discovered a new language that I never knew I would love."
What could you do during your gap year?
Do a Gap Year Program
Center for Interim Programs offers gap year counseling services and has over 5,600 programs to choose from. Interested in science, but not sure what you’d focus on? Consider having Interim help you find a conservation project on reefs or rainforest research in the Caribbean. Thinking Beyond Borders’ gap year programs focus on addressing critical global issues, like public health and sustainable agriculture in anywhere from Ecuador to India.
Volunteer Abroad or Domestically
If you’re looking to find volunteer programs on your own, compare programs that fit your interest and budget at GoAbroad.com. Volunteer programs like Ubelong and Love Volunteers offer affordable volunteer programs in the developing world. Want to live in another state to help with domestic issues? Americorps and City Year offer service learning gap years in the U.S. in anything from poverty to disaster relief. You’d receive a living stipend and even $5,000 toward your future college tuition.
Do an Internship
If you want to spend your gap time gaining valuable work experience, but also want a structured program, apply for internships through Dream Careers. This internship program company offers fall or spring internships for students in a medley of different hard-to-break-into industries (finance, photography, fashion, etc.) in Chicago and New York. But if you’re looking for more low-cost options, simply check your local job listings or websites like Monster to find internships in a field you might study.
Study a Language
If you’re going to take a year off, why not combine volunteering or traveling with language learning? Projects-Abroad offers language course programs and home-stays. You could study Mandarin in China, French in Senegal, Spanish in Costa Rica, and more.
A gap year might not be for every pre-collegiette, but it’s definitely an adventure worth considering. So, why not take a break? You might find a bigger world awaits you before you return to the comfort of the classroom.