The term “gap year” is a new one for me. Apparently, a gap year is the time many students take off after their senior year of high school before heading off to college. This isn’t a time of just hanging out, however. A gap year is most often designed to teach the student skills or provide a living/learning experience of some kind.
According to USAToday.com, the gap year may be a relatively new concept, but has been tradition in other countries; approximately 11% of high school grads in the UK engage in a gap year experience, and the term commonly used in Australia to refer to this break is “going walkabout”.
As a professional with an academic background in student development theory, I’m not quite sold on the gap year. It probably could be a very beneficial experience under the right circumstances. Here’s what I’d recommend.
Have a Plan
There absolutely must be planned activities during this time in order for growth to occur. This is not a time for just sitting around aimlessly hoping to “find yourself”. There are services and programs that can help you to embark on a planned individual or group experience to meet your preferences and needs.
One such program is Dynamy, a non-profit experiential organization that provides varied internship and learning experiences to its participants. Planet GapYear.com and GapYear.com are websites where you can find tons of resources to help plan your gap year.
Make It Meaningful
According to the USAToday.com article, the cost for a gap year experience can be $10,000 – $20,000. That’s quite a bit of money, and I’m not sure if there is financial aid for this kind of experience. Perhaps to make a gap year even more meaningful, you could sit down with your parents and guidance counselor to look at creating your own program close to home. You can check with the local human service agencies to find volunteer experiences that appeal to you or you could look into internship programs that provide a small stipend like Americorps.
Cover Your Bases
As I’ve mentioned before, if you do intend to take a year off school and have already been accepted to a college or university, it’s imperative that you communicate your intentions to that institution’s admissions and financial aid departments. You’ll need to find out if your place will be held for the following year’s Freshman class and what you’ll need to do to get your financial aid in place. Don’t let things fall through the cracks. Covering your bases will ensure a smooth transition into college when you’re ready.