In Bridging the Gap between High School and College at a Price (October 5th, 2013), Alina Tugend highlights an emerging trend in America which has long been a cultural expectation in other parts of the world – taking a year after high school to gain real world experience. While Tugend emphasizes the hefty price tags often associated with ‘gap year’ programs, she falls short in highlighting the benefits of such experiences – or, for many, the cost of not taking this year.
The expectation that our kids move along the K-16 conveyor belt without a pause is beginning to shift. High school has never been more stressful, and increasingly students get to college burnt-out and lacking the emotional skills and sense of purpose needed to take full advantage of college. Today, 1/3 of college Freshman do not return for a second year and on average kids take six years to get through four year institutions. And for those who are low-income or first in their families to go to college, just 8% will make it through in 6 years.
Increasingly, diverse colleges — from Harvard to Middlebury to UNC – encourage, if not require, that incoming freshman take a year to explore themselves and the world before arriving on campus. Some schools offer preferred admissions or financial aid. Others offer up to a year of academic credit for select programs. Why do they do this?
They know that they get a better student, and one with the perspective and maturity necessary to thrive on campus.
In today’s world, experience outside the classroom is not simply a luxury; it’s a pre-requisite for success in college, careers and a global economy. Colleges must create incentives to encourage more students to have these experiences, and the government should ensure that financial aid levels the playing field of opportunity.
It’s time to reframe the conversation from our notion of a ‘gap year’ as an indulgent junket for the privileged, to a ‘bridge year’ or ‘launch year’ for our nation’s best and brightest.
Simply put, we can’t afford not to.