The Value Added Gap Year


With today’s economy, I am being asked more than usual, what I think about “Gap Years”. For parents who are hearing this term for the first time, a gap year is taking a year off before continuing school or looking for a job. So both graduates of High School and graduates of college are taking gap years.

Gap years have been common practice in Europe and Australia. As I have lived and traveled all over the world, I often run into young people taking a gap year. It is an amazing life experience if it is used for just that, an experience.

After high school, a gap year allows the new graduate time for maturity. Some kids know exactly what they want to do and they are eager to get on with it. For them, it is best to go with this enthusiasm and start their college experience. The kiddo that does not know what they want to do, has no clear direction or interest, may find some answers during this time.

As I have previously blogged, schools like Princeton and Harvard are encouraging gap years. They even have a specific program that admits students and holds their place while they spend a year performing a public service. What the student gains is a maturity and a vision of a bigger world.

Getting accepted to college is just the beginning of a journey. We want to get our kids across that finish line called college graduation and according to the College Board 30% of the Freshman will not return for their sophomore year. It is all about being ready for college and also wanting to be there.

So, for some students who aren’t quite ready for college, taking a year off, may give them the time they need to mature, make some money, travel and experience something outside their community. This is a good thing. It allows everyone to have more time to be prepared and to get their finances in order.

With the price of tuition and college expenses, why take the gamble when you know your student is not ready. It is a good option. Discuss this with your graduate because a gap year needs to be a productive year. Ask your student to come up with a plan and then sit down and discuss it.

For the college graduate, a gap year is taking a year off before looking for a job or continuing on to Graduate School. When unemployment is high and competition is fierce to say the least, this may be a great idea. Many graduates do not have practical skills and life experiences and there are many activities that can provide these growth experiences. For some graduates, they have had their heads down in a book since preschool and they have worked hard. This is a year to recharge and get their life in focus.

Employers look at applicants that stand out from the group. A gap year enhances a profile. It shows employers that the graduate is more than just a student. It also makes the applicant someone that is interesting. Often someone that has travel extensively is confident, and responsible. These are skills that come from surviving in different cultures or different situations.

Options for a gap year include internships, volunteer work, apprenticeships, training programs and the favorite is travel. Many graduates plan out an around the world trip with an around the world ticket. They pack light and just go with their Lonely Planets.

Volunteer experiences include working through Americorps with Habitat for Humanity. These kinds of experiences lead to friendships that last a life time. A graduate does not have to leave the country to have a life altering experience. They can find an experience right here in their home country.

The gap year experience is the completion of a full education. There is more to an education than what is learned in the classroom.