Gap year experiences, where students defer admission to college and take a year off after high school, are becoming increasingly popular. Americans are jumping on the bandwagon big-time.
Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, gap year researchers and authors of “Gap Year, American Style: Journeys Toward Learning, Serving, and Self-Discovery” (2013) and “The Gap Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off Before or During College” (2005), are firm believers in the transformational powers of the gap year experience. Through their research, they have learned that there are two major reasons students choose to take a gap year:
• Students feel a need to take a break from formal education because they are burned out.
• They want to learn more about themselves.
Here are some of the things that students have done during their time off:
Taught classes, helped build houses, interned, participated in scientific research, served on ships and worked with animals.
One of Haigler and Nelson’s gap alums shared, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”
Many parents worry that their children may get distracted and never attend college. The research has shown that not only do students return from their travels and go to college, but that they come back reinvigorated and even more prepared to tackle the academic challenges at college.
Most students also report a greater appreciation of the opportunity to attend college. One of Haigler and Nelson’s gap year parents talked about her child’s reignited passion and curiosity: “He was ready to go [to college]. He was refreshed mentally. So psyched about his classes. So psyched about his teachers. He was ready to make something of himself. The result is that he got the maximum value out of the college.”
Until parents and students do their research, many wonder what colleges will think about their decision to defer their admission to college. It turns out that most colleges are very supportive. Harvard University, MIT, Princeton, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale and Middlebury are among the many colleges that not only support, but also encourage, students to take time off.
American Gap Association (www.americangap.org) maintains a list of colleges and descriptions of their gap year policies. Additionally, AGA lists scholarships that are designated for students taking a gap year such as: Test-Drive Your Future, LIVFund, the Fund for Education Abroad, the Foundation for Global Scholars, Rotary Scholarships and more.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website at www.CollegeAdmissionsStrategies.com.