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Gap Years: Pros, Cons, and How to’s

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Gap Years: Pros, Cons, and How to’s

GoAbroad.com is one of many sites that help students choose a gap year program that is right for them.

GoAbroad.com is one of many sites that help students choose a gap year program that is right for them.

GoAbroad.com

GoAbroad.com is one of many sites that help students choose a gap year program that is right for them.

GoAbroad.com

GoAbroad.com

GoAbroad.com is one of many sites that help students choose a gap year program that is right for them.

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As we enter second semester, seniors at Shorecrest and across the country are preparing for life after high school. For 88.5% of Shorecrest students, life after graduation means university. This seems to be the most popular post-high school plan, but there is another option on the rise; taking a gap year. In Europe and Australia, gap years have long been a tradition. The trend seems to have successfully made its way to the United States; according to Quartz, since 2006 the number of students choosing this option has been growing by about 25% each year. In a Shorecrest poll it was indicated that 3.8% of Scots are taking a gap year, while 23.1% are considering it. This is in line with the 3% of American students who choose this path annually.

These so called “gappers” face a lot of judgement from parents, teachers, peers, and society for their choices. Many assume that when students take a gap year it will hinder their ability to get a degree, or will lead them down an unproductive path. While only 3.8% of Shorecrest students feel taking a gap year is an invalid plan, 42.3% retain the position that taking one is only valid if it is productive. To settle this concern, we need to have a better understanding about how a gap year is defined. The American Gap Year Association (AGA) defines the choice as a break “typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.” A gap year is a time when young adults get to travel, work, learn, and grow. When we look at a gap year in terms of its definition, and not its connotations, we find the plan is much more valid. The AGA would not consider a student sitting on their parents’ couch watching television for twelve months as taking a gap year. It’s not a year off, it’s a year on. This distinction is very important to understand in order to lessen the negative stigmas surrounding this growing plan.

Deciding whether or not to take a gap year is a tough choice. There are several consequences to consider, but also many positive results. Senior Jewel LaMarr, who has thought about taking a gap year, said that this option is very appealing to her. “It gives you time to establish yourself in a job, or financially speaking, before you go off to college,” she explained. It also,“gives you a break,” and “time to experience adulthood before throwing yourself into an education.” Gap years generally have very positive advantages, many of which society doesn’t always realize. 

Save/earn money for college-

Many students choose to get employed or take an internship during their gap year. By working for a year, a student will earn money which can help them pay for college. This ia a good option for students who currently cannot afford college. Gappers can build a resume and get letters of recommendations. In fact, 88% of gap year students say that their gap year significantly helped their employability.

Step out of your comfort zone and grow as a person-

Going from being a teenager who is dependant on their parents, to living alone and taking care of oneself is not an easy transition to make. For many, the immaturity and playfulness of adolescence does not positively transfer into adulthood. By taking a gap year and traveling, interning, working, volunteering, or pursuing an activity, many young adults are able to find themselves and their purpose. According to the AGA, 98% of gap year students say that their experiences helped them to develop as a person and reflect on who they are and what they might want to be in life. While 97% stated it increased their maturity, and 96% claimed it increased their self-confidence. These are all valuable and necessary skills to acquire before one heads off to study their future career.

Refresh and destress before another four years of school-

High school is a very exhausting time for many teenagers. As the tide of homework keeps rising, they are pushed to their limits both mentally and emotionally. A significant amount of students need a chance to unwind before entering another four years of stress. According to Quartz, mental health issues on college campuses are on an upward trend; nearly one-third of college students are now diagnosably struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Taking a gap year is thought to be one of the best ways to avoid dealing with these harsh mental illnesses in college. Besides this, there is significant data proving that gappers perform at higher academic levels than their more traditional counterparts. A study conducted at Middlebury College in Vermont, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill show that those who took a gap year held a 0.1-0.4 higher GPA (on a 4.0 scale) than those who did not. Many parents think their child will lose their academic knowledge and struggle once they return to school, but most times a much needed break will foster better grades by refreshing both a student’s brain and their work ethic.

Get a second chance at your dream school-

It happens every year to many high schoolers; they slave over their ivy league application, crossing their fingers that after four years of non-stop hard work they have earned a spot in their dream school, only to find out that less than 10% of applicants are accepted. Those students then have to decide from a plethora of less appealing schools and sludge through a year or two before trying to transfer to their original top choice. Luckily, there lies another option; taking a gap year. This offers students a chance to re-apply in a year’s time, likely get accepted after polishing up their application, and avoid wasting thousands of dollars on a school they don’t really want to attend. Equipped with new skills, many re-appliers will find themselves successful as universities highly value having gappers on their campus. This is why many (high-level) colleges offer acceptees a one-year deferral that acknowledges their acceptance, but delays it by a year, giving the student an opportunity to pursue a gap year free of worry over their future. The AGA website offers a list of colleges in each state that offer deferrals.

Still, it would be ignorant to completely ignore the few downfalls that might occur. Most of the common concerns presented about gap years have easy solutions, but it is still important to consider them as a reality when looking to take a gap year.

Expense-

If you are the type of gapper who chooses to travel, pursue another pricey activity, or sign up with a gap year program, cost is of great importance. Gap year programs are pre-scheduled, often abroad, experiences that last for about a year. While it takes the stress of planning off of students, it places the burden of money on their shoulders. The average cost of a gap year is often upwards of $4,000, sometimes reaching up to $10,000, with the highest level programs landing at $30,000. This cost added atop future college tuition is a huge concern. In fact, many deem becoming a gapper as an upper class luxury.

Stress and uncertainty-

For those high schoolers that spent their four years meticulously note-taking, organizing binder tags, and utilizing color coded highlighters, the uncertainty and instability that often accompanies a gap year may be a little too much for their usually perfectly planned lives. Many may also feel left behind as their friends are packing for college and moving into dorm rooms, while they miss the fun and excitement of heading off to university with their class. In these cases, a gap year intended to help them grow and destress may do just the opposite. For some, a gap year just isn’t realistic and will hinder their mental state. Students need to make sure they really want to choose this path, no one wants to be six months into their gap year and filled with regret.

Deterrence from desired path-

While 90% of gappers do return from their year of discovery and attend college, it is possible that during those twelve months things go a little awry. Those who lack motivation, are disorganized, or face other circumstances run the risk of wasting their time and never getting back on track. People might find themselves in a steady job over their gap year and then find it hard to leave in search of a degree when they’re already stable, or make the choice to go buy a fancy car and leave themselves no tuition money. There are no problems to be found in changing your ideas of what you want, but there are problems in making poor decisions. It can be easy to get caught up in the serendipitous adventure and freedom of a gap year, but it doesn’t mean we can go completely wild; gappers still need to keep their feet on the ground.

Shorecrest Student Poll
Popularity in gap years are growing and so is acceptance for them.

When this year’s seniors walk out the doors of Shorecrest, about 12 of them will be taking a gap year. If you’re one of them, you should be aware of the ways in which you can ensure that your experience includes all of the pros, and avoids all of the cons.

  1. Have a plan. Remember, it’s a year on not a year off. If you’re going to travel, figure out where, how, and when. If you’re doing a gap year program, find one and sign up for it. If you’re going to work, apply for some jobs. If you’re going to volunteer, find an organization. Just like everyone who is going to college is working diligently on applications and finding dorm rooms, you need to be preparing in the same way. Of course, there is no shame in not having it all figured out, especially if you don’t know where your gap year is headed. But even so, make a plan to make a plan. Figure out how you’ll decide and follow the schedule. This will also help reduce the stress and uncertainty that many will find haunting them if they leave high school plan-less.
  2. Save money. If you’re signing up for a gap year program or just traveling/pursuing an activity on your own, it is going to cost you several thousand (possibly even tens of thousands of) dollars. First, you must set a budget. Figure out how much you need for plane tickets, how much a certain activity costs, how much you’ll need in spending money, and make sure to examine the exchange rates for whatever country you’re exploring if you’re traveling. Once you know how much you need, start saving! You can do this by getting a job your senior year of high school, fundraising, or selling unwanted property. Many gap year programs offer scholarships for their services, and a few schools that offer deferrals also grant financial aid to students who choose that option. Having enough money is vital. While your gap year is about you and your growth, no one wants to end up in the middle of a foreign country with an empty wallet.
  3. Keep focused, but be flexible. Gap years might fasttrack you down the path already in front of you, or they may turn you down an unexpected road. Having your goals, ideas, and beliefs change is a good thing, and will help you find your place in the world and shape what you do when you return. If you discover during your gap year that you actually want to pursue something besides post-secondary school, it is okay. If you thought you were going to be a doctor, and now you want to be a painter, it is okay. “[A gap year] gives you more time to assess your options,” says LaMarr. “So if you decide you don’t want to go back [to college], that’s a decision you can make.” Have a plan, stick to it, but still expect change. You are likely to be a very different person when you return, and that has to be accepted. In fact, 60% of gappers state that their experience actually helped them to set their path straight and decide on a career or college choice. However, we can’t ignore the fact that it’s possible to get completely off track. This is why having a plan is important, but also why dedication and determination is vital. It might be tempting to stay on the beaches of Italy forever, or get married to the person you met three weeks ago at your new job, but ask yourself if these things take you where you want to go. As long as at the end of the year you end up on a path you want to be on, then your gap year journey was a success.

From Malia Obama to the 3.8% of Shorecrest students, the population of gappers is growing annually. It is becoming ever more evident that the advantages of gap years are enticing. Still, one has to be careful when choosing this life-changing option. “You need to have structure to it,” said LaMarr. “You need to have a goal in mind.” Just make sure you have a plan, enough cash, and a whole lot of determination, and you’ll be on your way to joining the thousands strong gapper population.

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