Just this past week, I returned from a week-long trip to the country of Israel to learn about gap year programs. In this one country alone, more than 10,000 students from across the globe (most from the USA) between the ages of 18-21 live for 1-2 years to have a unique academic, religious, volunteer, or internship opportunity before they venture off to college. While this is just one country, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of gap year experiences to be had both in the United States and around the world.
As a college counselor for more than 14 years, I regularly ask my rising seniors if they are planning to consider a gap year between high school and college, and very few say they have thought about it. In fact, as a counselor and advisor, I realize I am asking my students about a gap year at the wrong time. I should start asking and educating them about the benefits of the experience as early as 9th grade – and I think parents and family members should start doing the same.
Often times I will hear from students that they are ready to embark on their college experience and think they are ready to experience all that college has to offer. Indeed, taking a gap year would just delay that experience. While in theory that seems like it makes sense, it is more a myth than a reality. Today, the high school experience is based on meeting certain metrics; in particular, earning certain grades and test scores that can be used for advancement to the next step in the educational journey. What has been missing from schools around the country is the personal and professional development that accompanies a well-rounded educational experience. While we know that many students are ready for the academic demands for college, are they prepared for the personal and professional ones?
There are countless programs and opportunities that can make up a gap year experience. Programs can include adult mentorship on a daily basis, cultural exchanges, volunteer opportunities, and work, which all provide support to young adults as they gain maturity and transition to college. The consistent message coming from gap year programs that I have learned about is that they want students to have meaningful experiences learning in the real world. A gap year can help students develop a sense of purpose and provide more direction in their life based on their values and passions for real world issues. It is the opportunities found in gap years that are helping students identify whether they are headed in the right direction to create the college experience they are so excited to have.
Whenever I talk to a student who is uncertain about their future after high school, I always say, the most important thing we need to have in place upon your graduation is a plan. We have gotten to a place where we think there is only one way to achieve post-secondary success and that is to enter college at 18, graduate at 22 and begin work within a month or two post college graduation. The reality is that this plan leads to more stress for young adults, and at a time when we are noticing much higher levels of mental health concerns among students and adults, we need to find alternatives and options that meet the individual needs of a person rather than options that satisfy a cultural norm.
So how does one go about finding the right gap year experience? First thing is to sit down as a family, discuss the pros and cons of doing a gap year and how it can or cannot fit in with the short and long term goals that your student has set up for themselves. Do not hesitate to expand your village by getting advice and support from a school counselor, independent college counselor, trusted friends, and/or mentors, and explore what possibilities make the most sense. Identifying values, skills, and experiences that a student wants to develop, explore, or grow can help create a plan that makes the most sense. Coming up with a plan is the goal but it will take time for each step in the plan to become clear.
Additionally, reaching out to organizations like the Gap Year Association (www.gapyearassociation.org) and attending programs like the USA Gap Year Fair (https://www.gooverseas.com/gap-year/usa-fairs) can be an excellent place to start exploring all that is available to students locally, nationally, and internationally. It will be through these two resources that students can begin to understand that a gap year does not need to be something completely separate from their college experience but an integral part of the educational and personal journey they are excited to pursue in the next few months and years ahead.
To learn more about gap year and how it can be a positive addition to the college process, please take advantage of our complimentary initial call with me, Dana Ponsky, Senior College Admissions Counselor at NYC Admissions Solutions. Contact me at www.nycadmissionssolutions.com/contact.