Nov 07, 2018 By Team YoungWonks *
“Should I take a gap year?” is a common question playing on the minds of many students who are about to finish high school. So what is the right answer to this question? Should one take a gap year or continue with one’s college plans? In this blog, we attempt to explore the options these students have before them.
What is a Gap Year?
It’s important to look at what exactly is a gap year before students decide if taking one is indeed worth their time. So what is a gap year? Traditionally, a gap year is the year you consciously decide to take a year off from your formal education between high school and college/university, although a gap year doesn’t have to last a full year and can be taken at any age.
Does this mean that anyone can take a gap year? The answer is yes, technically anyone can take a year off from their academic life. But then one must bear in mind that one needs to examine exactly what he/ she plans to do in this gap year. This is where community service comes in. Whether it’s one gap year program after high school or a long-term volunteer abroad program after college, either way it’s important to remember that the idea behind a gap year is that it’s an extension of one’s education, an accumulation of different experiences and perspectives. The goal is to ultimately evolve as a person and expand your worldview, especially if you are going outside your city / hometown.
Gap Year: A Refreshing Change
Is gap year for everyone? No. It’s not necessarily for everyone because not everyone has to have that focus at that point of time, that is after high school or college. You could be wanting to just pursue higher studies and so it’s also okay to want to continue with that.
But at the same time, a gap year can be a refreshing change. Especially if the student has a clear idea about what he/ she wants to do in the gap year. In some cases, the student goes in with an open mind and discovers his/ her calling during the course of the gap year. These instances can be really fruitful as they help students pick up valuable life skills and develop their personalities while having a positive impact on the places they visit and the people they meet. So it’s imperative to pick the community service program or project as per one’s study experience, existing skill set and interests. Some volunteer projects are skills-based while others don’t require any specialized skills or previous experience.
Options One Can Pick From For a Gap Year
Today, it’s a lot easier to communicate across cultures, so those looking for gap year programs after high school have a lot more options to pick from. Take for instance, Carpe Diem Education’s Latitudes Program. It’s a highly rated program that offers students an independent volunteer placement at an organization of their choice after three months spent as part of a group program in a regional destination.
Similarly, there’s Projects Abroad’s Global Gap Year that gives students the chance to see the world and do some good in the world at the same time through community service.
If you are a student who does not have the funds for a gap year, earning a TEFL certificate and teaching English abroad is a good option. This way, students are exposed to a new culture and are making money instead of spending it.
Then there’s Pacific Discovery’s short-term semester gap programs in Australia or New Zealand where students can spend half of their gap year working and saving money, and the other half on adventures too.
Are Gap Years Actually Helpful?
Is a gap year really helpful or is it an excuse to take the year off and just have fun? Does the gap year actually help one with college admissions? These are pertinent questions, no doubt.
The fact is that over the years, colleges have adopted a more open attitude towards gap year programs. Some even encourage their admitted students to take one. For more than 30 years, Harvard’s acceptance letters included a suggestion that students take time off before enrolling. The idea behind it being that students taking a gap year don’t burn out in college and instead look at their college courses with a renewed vigour. More often than not, gap year programs transform the student who has now undergone a life-changing experience. Moreover, the increased maturity, self-confidence and problem solving experience comes in handy during college. A 2016 Forbes article quotes American Gap Association statistics which in turn stated that nearly all of study abroad students found their gap years helpful in terms of personal growth (98 percent) and increased maturity (97 percent). Other benefits of gap year include gaining work experience, learning about other cultures / languages and increased exposure to study and career options.
It’s perhaps no wonder then that even in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the gap year has been viewed rather positively. In fact, the modern concept of gap year is said to have started in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. According to a 2010 report by the Wall Street Journal, 90 percent of students opting for gap year return to college. The growing popularity of gap year programs throughout the US is also reflected in a 2016 Associated Press report citing surveys taken by the American Gap Association. According to this report, 30,000 to 40,000 students have been taking advantage of the break each year, and the year 2015 showed a 22 percent increase in students taking gap years over the previous year.
Financial Aid and Scholarships for College after the Gap Year
Many colleges and universities, including the prestigious ones are forthcoming with aid for gap year students these days. Princeton offers need-based financial aid for gap year students participating in its Bridge Year program; meanwhile, the University of North Carolina provides monetary support for applicants through its Global Gap Year Fellowship. Tufts has a 1+4 bridge year program, which provides funding for students to participate in a full year of national or international service.
When to Apply to College: Before or After the Gap Year?
Many counselors and college admissions officials encourage high school seniors to apply and get accepted to college before taking a gap year. This is because their junior and senior years are set up to support the college application process. Of course, colleges, including Harvard, accept students who apply after their gap year. But it is logistically better for both students and admissions officials when students apply to college before taking a gap year, especially if they are going abroad where correspondence may be not be easy.
Transitioning to College after Gap Year
Is it difficult to transition to college after a gap year? This does vary on a case-by-case basis but more often than not, students going to college after a gap year are able to transition easily because they have already been away from home and are now excited to go back to school. They are usually more mature and better prepared in terms of getting used to a new environment. So these students often have an advantage over the rest.
To sum up, a gap year can be really useful to a student but it is important to have a structured gap year program in place. Even if the student takes the initial months to figure out his/ her calling, it is important to recognise the same and pursue it so that the gap year serves as a fitting springboard to one’s college aspirations.
Moreover, in the United States, a gap year program is assessed by looking at the student’s engagement and time management skills. For instance, colleges today want to see that the student doing community service is not just in it for the sake of just standing out; they want to see a genuine, long-term dedication that is reflected among students who have made volunteering a part of their weekly routine, over a period of years. Indeed, according to a recent survey by Do Something, an organization committed to encouraging students to take up volunteer opportunities, commitment to a project or cause over a long period of time is what would give students an edge over the others.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Photo by Leonel Cruz