After 13 years, 117 months and approximately 2,350 days of continuous school, Lindsay felt she needed a break. Instead of heading directly for her freshman year at a prestigious upstate New York college, she decided to take a gap year and packed her bags for India. There, she learned Tamil while helping to bring solar power to impoverished communities in the Pondicherry District.
A gap year, which is that period of time between completing high school and beginning college or between college graduation and the start of a graduate school program, has long been common in Britain (even Prince William took time to do volunteer work in Chile before continuing his studies) and Australia. While the concept is relatively new here in the U.S., its popularity is growing quickly. In fact, the Independent Educational Consultants Association reported that in 2013 enrollment in gap programs was up almost 60 percent over 2012.1
While this represents only a small percentage of high school seniors who go directly to college, a growing number of schools, including Harvard, Princeton and the University of South Carolina, among others, now encourage accepted students to take a gap year before starting their freshman year.
Becoming a Citizen of the World
Most recently, the New School for Liberal Arts, a university in New York City, partnered with Global Citizen Year to offer incoming freshman the ability to take a transformative “bridge year” to volunteer in a developing country. Students who complete the program will earn 30 academic credits—enough to start college as a sophomore.
These and other schools recognize that getting involved in different types of learning experiences, such as international volunteering, gives young people the opportunity to gain perspective and confidence, develop foreign language skills and, at the same time, give back to the world. The benefit of a gap year is that students tend to begin the next step in their education determined to tackle their studies with greater focus and maturity.
“Less tangibly, but perhaps most important, gap-year students will have the experience of taking responsibility for their lives and thereby gain greater perspective on their place in the world and how they may uniquely contribute to their community and family now and in the future,” said education policy experts Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson in their guide,The Gap Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off Before and During College(published by St. Martin’s Griffin).
For college graduates, taking a gap year before looking for a job or continuing on to graduate school can be a way to recharge and get their life in focus while building practical life experiences. A gap year can also enhance a graduate’s resumé, helping a student to stand out in a tough job market.