Last week we wrote about impending deadlines for college applications. If a student is lacking enthusiasm for the next step, the answer may be taking a gap year. An article from the Counseling department at New York University cited studies by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson published in 2005 and 2013. According to the studies, students often choose to take a gap year because they are “burned out by high school and preparing for college.” Another reason cited by the studies is that students want to learn more about themselves.
Despite the elimination of class rank, for example, to lessen the competition in high schools, students still feel pressure. Students may adhere to a path set out for them by parents and have a resume bursting with accomplishments. But has the student had time to identify his or her own passions and interests? A gap year can accomplish that.
Taking a gap year may also be appropriate for a student who is genuinely ambivalent about going to college. A year of work can be an eye-opening experience for an 18-year-old if Mom and Dad charge for rent and the young adult has to pay for gas, insurance and other expenses. The student may find motivation and a direction after working 40 hours a week in a job with limited upward mobility. Mom and Dad can put the year’s worth of rent payments toward tuition the next year.
A gap year should not be a year off (translation: playing video games, watching Netflix and visiting friends at college), however. As noted above, it can take many forms including work, as well as travel, volunteering, internships or other activities. An article by Dan Messier on the website beyondbooksmart.com suggests some specific goals and strategies for making a gap year worthwhile.
If the goal is for the student take an academic break and learn more about him or herself, there are a few strategies that Messier suggests:
One of the problems with hectic high school life is that there is no time for reflection. Journaling in this context is reacting, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about what experiences mean.
Trying New Things:
High school is busy—and for a student on a heavy academic track, there may be limited opportunities to do other things. Students may find their passion lies in something they had little or no time to pursue in high school.
Exploring the Future of You:
Some students may have a vision of a job they would like to do someday. But knowing if it is the right fit takes exploration to distinguish between a vision and reality. Meeting a person in a particular career may cement a student’s interest—or point the student in a completely different direction.
Messier also notes the following skills are important to develop during the year:
Lacking the structure of school, assignments and a schedule, it’s easy for time to fly by. If a student is going to travel, for example, he or she will need to do higher level planning than may have been previously required. Another example might involve learning about a specific field. A student will need to do research, seek out practitioners, make contacts, arrange meetings and prepare for them.
Students may fear that if they take a year off college, they may never get there. But if the goal is truly to find direction and/or take a break, keeping that focus in mind will help make the year worthwhile.
A gap year is not something Mom and Dad should try to engineer for their high school graduate. In fact, just the opposite. The student needs to create a structure and plan for what he or she wants to accomplish during the year. If successful, taking a gap year will produce a more mature, experienced student who is better prepared to move toward adulthood and life goals.