Gap Years: What Is A Gap Year Before College (And Should You Take One)?

Tips For Taking The Road Less Traveled With A Gap Year

By Tricia Taormina

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 library? 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 us 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 lives. "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." High school seniors 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 recent grads 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.

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