The gap year—taking a year off between high school and college—has recently come back into vogue. The idea of a taking a sabbatical of self-exploration first became popular in the 1970s, but this new generation of students is less inspired by Jack Kerouac’s aimless adventures, and more interested in polishing a skill or organizing a community project. Looking for a compelling reason for pursuing this great option? We’ve got eight of them-four each for students and parents!
Recharge and reenergize
Burned out from the soaring stress of high school? You’re not alone. After a senior year filled with a full load of Advanced Placement and IB classes, high-stakes testing, college applications and extra curricular activities, many high achieving kids just want a break. The gap year gives you an opportunity to explore your interests away from the classroom-in a more hands-on setting that will leave you reinvigorated, revitalized and ready to reenter the academic world.
Reboot and build skills
If your high school career was good, but not great, the gap year gives a little more time to get your act together, master the art of time management or find your passion-and improve your odds of getting into a “good fit” college. Use your gap year to build a stronger portfolio to broaden your opportunities for acceptance to a more competitive college or university.
Colleges welcome gap year students
Contrary to popular myth, colleges actually like accepting students that took a year off as long as these folks did something to expand their life experience. As the gap year has grown in popularity, there are also many more structured programs available to enable gap year students to experience global travel, volunteer or hands-on internships. And there is now a growing body of evidence that those students who take a year off before college will actually perform better once they get there. Middlebury College found that the average G.P.A. of those gap year students was consistently higher than the students who did not take a break before entering college.
Gain independence (and ignore the peer pressure)
This is your chance to redefine yourself, away from the influence of your family and friends. It’s an amazing opportunity to become exactly the person you want to be. Probably the biggest challenge and the one most kids cannot get past is peer pressure. While the vast majority of your classmates may be going directly to college, what you may not know is that many will not finish their undergraduate program, or take more than four years to earn their bachelor’s degree. Everyone has their own path, and it’s not always straight to college from high school.
Tips for Parents
Know your kid.
If you think your student would benefit from a gap year, support that decision. As difficult as it is, resist the peer pressure that the school, your student’s friends and other parents will exert.
Don’t think of it as a “year off”
Realize that a gap year is not a year off from your student’s education, just a different experiential phase. It is their opportunity to pursue a passion, hone a skill, or immerse themselves in another culture. Many parents fear that if their teen takes a year off, he or she may never go on to college. The reality is that a well-planned gap year experience can actually give a student the tools to succeed in college. Most students emerge from their gap year with increased enthusiasm, a clearer picture of their course of study, and a stronger sense of their place in the world.
Let them chart their course
Let your student take the lead on developing his or her gap year. While you might not want to spend the year working on an organic farm, building a synthesizer from scratch or teaching urban youth, it’s not your gap year, it’s theirs. Remember, it not a year off; it’s a transition year.
It doesn’t have to be expensive
There are formal gap year programs that include opportunities to study abroad or engage in community service. These organized programs can be expensive, and some, but not all, offer financial aid. However, the gap year need not be costly. A student can certainly design a gap year plan on their own, but it requires initiative, creativity and focus-all traits you want your young adult to develop!