The perks of a gap year

Students on the gap year program Amigos de la America jump for joy in Columbia. The program offers trips around South America for youth.

Students on the gap year program “Amigos de la America” jump for joy in Columbia. The program offers trips around South America for youth.

For the majority of high school students it is assumed that once graduated,  we must attend college in the immediate fall semester because well- what else would we do? There is an alternative option of course that most do not acknowledge: taking a gap year.

A gap year is a structured time period when students take a break from their studies in order to experiment with possible careers, increase self-awareness and learn life skills. These are usually achieved through work, travel, internships or volunteering.

The gap year originated in Europe where it is widely accepted but since it is a relatively new phenomenon in America, there is a stigma attached; certain people consider taking a year off of school to be unproductive and a waste of time. However, it is proven extremely beneficial for students to choose this route as they will gain invaluable knowledge which will be applied in college and the “real-world” too.

College and career counsellor Cathy Habryl oversees Monte Vista students who wish to participate in a gap year; “There is only a small amount of students who choose this option but it is increasing in popularity for sure. I think parents are becoming more supportive and there is definitely more access to such opportunities,” Habryl, who took her own study break to travel after school, said. “Some people are worried about their child not being able to get back into the education system once they are out but there are so many structured travel  programs so this can be preventable”.

Seniors in high school have already been channelled through twelve years of education, stress, pressure, and hard work for their desired grades, only to then be entered into a much more advanced education environment of college. Some students may find this overwhelming and could find themselves burnt out by the time they’re half way through their college tuition. On the other hand if a student takes a break from their studies, they will be able to refresh their minds by using their time to better prepare themselves for their upcoming courses. A productive gap year will provide students with experiences which help to broaden their perspective and gain direction, giving the college years meaning and focus.

Unless you are lucky enough to have always known you wanted to be a doctor, for most 17 year olds picking a career and a field of study can be a challenging decision. We all know somebody who rashly enrolled into college without knowing exactly what they wanted from their course. As a result they wasted valuable time and money by having to switch their majors simply because “it wasn’t for them”. If a student is not one hundred percent convinced about their major then it could be to the student’s advantage to learn more about themselves in order to determine clear goals and motivation.

“Those students [who take a gap year] definitely get ahead of those who did not because their learning life skills through the self-exploration, they grow independent and are able to think for themselves. Colleges are definitely looking for someone who has something different to offer,” Habryl said.

Students who take a gap year are more likely to finish college in four years than those who enroll directly after high school. They also have higher GPAs and tend to be more focused: a study by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, authors of The Gap Year Advantage, found that 60% of gap year participants said the experience influenced or confirmed their choice of major.

In addition to the career-based advantages a student will gain, a gap year enables the opportunity for individual developmental growth. There is no better time to travel and experience the world’s cultures than as a young adult because there is nothing to tie you down. A gap year is the ideal moment to immerse yourself in another environment, challenge your comfort zone and meet a diverse array of people. Save up, find a travel buddy, choose your destination(s), just take off and open your mind- you’ll be astounded with what you may find.

For something more structured, there are hundreds of gap year programs offered to youth with access to countries around the world ranging from 2 weeks to 3+ months. Each program includes some sort enrichment activity such as volunteer community work or taking a course in a chosen subject. Some examples may be found here:

Breaking out of the Danville “bubble” encourages independence as well as a sense of freedom. Students who travel are generally more well-rounded, open-minded, better critical thinkers and are more streetwise: most importantly they gain a sense of self-awareness with an altered perspective on the world around them and an increased maturity level. Acquiring these life skills puts them ahead of regular college students because they’ve been exposed to unique situations. Also, being exposed to a variety of people whilst travelling increases interaction skills and teaches students how to deal with real life situations-all of which are essential to the being successful in the workforce.