Does Your High School Graduate Need a Gap Year Before College?

While a gap in a resume usually has negative implications, a gap year for a high school graduate is actually a positive thing. The gap year’s purpose is to give students a change of scenery from academics and allow them the time to participate in volunteer or internship opportunities stateside or in various locations across the globe. It’s common practice for college-bound students in the U.K. since the 1960s, and is gaining popularity in the U.S.

Is a Gap Year for Everyone?

If your student is really excited about starting their college education and chomping at the bit to hit the books again in the fall, then a gap year probably isn’t suitable for them. On the other hand, if your student is dragging their feet, thinking about not going to college, or needs an academic break, a gap year could actually enhance their college experience. According to the American Gap Association, the top reasons students take a gap year are: to gain life experiences, the opportunity for personal growth, learning through travel, and the desire to experience other cultures.

How Do Colleges View a Gap Year?

As long as a gap year isn’t spent sitting on the couch playing video games, colleges see it as a positive thing. In fact, Harvard, Princeton, Tufts, and NYU all openly encourage students to take a gap year in the acceptance letters they issue. By participating in an internship, working in a field related to their course of study, or volunteering, students gain a wider perspective about the world and the diverse people living in it. It can help them mature and become more self-reliant.

Some colleges, like Princeton, host a Bridge Year Program, which is open to a select number of incoming freshmen. The students participate in a nine month, community-based service in their choice of five international locations. Other colleges such as Florida State, University of North Carolina, and Tufts University, offer some form of financial aid to students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take advantage of a gap year.

Gap in Price Tags

Not all gaps have to include a formal program. Some students can plan their own gap year and may choose to live at home while working or saving money for college. For those looking for a more formal program, the cost can be thousands – upwards of $20,000 – and not within everyone’s reach.

State and national programs are available. The AmeriCorps that will actually pay students to participate. AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, ten-month residential service program for students age 17 and older who are passionate about giving back to their communities across the country. Team-based units serve alongside local and national organizations. Activities may involve constructing and rehabilitating low-income housing, cleaning up the environment, helping communities develop emergency plans, and addressing other issues that need attention in the community. Participants can earn up to $5,775 in stipends that can help with college costs. Living allowances range from $4,000 to $12,500 depending on if you are a member or leader. In addition, 92 U.S. colleges and universities will match dollar per dollar, the amount a student receives from AmeriCorps.

Formal Gap Year Programs

While most formal gap programs are costly, there is some financial aid available depending on the program and student needs. These programs are generally all-inclusive and include transportation, food, and lodging. Popular program models include environmentalism and conservation, community service, literacy and education, and public health. Here’s a sample of the hundreds of options available:

ARCC organizes a gap year for the student by offering several opportunities in service or adventure programs that span six continents. Locations in Costa Rica, India, China, Uganda, and more, give students the chance to work, learn, and explore over the course of 90-day semesters.

USA Gap Years Fair brings together several gap year organizations to give students a wide variety of choices suited for just about any interest. Team-based programs help stave the fear of being in a foreign country alone. If your student seeks adventure, the Adventure Seeker program may be an excellent opportunity to stretch their comfort zone. They’ll be off the beaten path, teaching children in local, indigenous tribes one week, and helping protect wildlife the next.

Thinking Beyond Borders could be the perfect fit for your student who is eager to get involved in creating meaningful social change for the world. Choose from a semester program in Asia, South America, or a 7-country gap year. Your student will work alongside and offer insight to local leaders. Mentoring and learning seminars are conducted by program leaders with Master’s degrees in international development and education.

After Gap & Graduation

According to the American Gap Association, college grads who took a gap year participated in more community service, experienced higher levels of job satisfaction, and had a higher voting record than compared to national norms.

Will your teen take a gap year before college? What program will they be joining, and what’s on the agenda? Share with us!

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