Should You Take A Gap Year After High School?
A gap year is when you decide to take a year off between high school and college, and according to a new report from NPR, it’s starting to become a more popular way of getting ready for college. In a new episode of All Things Considered, host Audie Cornish featured takes from both students and administrators regarding this idea.
According to the transcript — found here — schools like Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, are starting to see the logic and are even going as far to pay for the student’s time off during gap years. Kirk Carapezza of WGBH in Boston notes that Tufts “will give incoming freshmen the opportunity to do a year of international or national service prior to beginning their studies.”
Alan Solomont, head of the College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts, feels America “is facing a crisis in its public institutions,” he told Carapezza. “The most important question that we should be asking future generations is: What are you going to do to serve?”
The Tufts program will require that students “stay in touch with faculty throughout their service year,” Carapezza notes, adding that “When the year ends, they’ll talk about their experiences together.”
Solomont added that “it’s important to give financial support to those students who want to take a gap year but can’t afford one.”
“We are going to make it available to students of all economic backgrounds,” he added.
Tufts is one of a growing number of schools that see the value in this logic. Carapezza reports that “Princeton and UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, have started to offer fully subsidized service programs so that more low-income students can get similar experiences to their affluent peers.”
Higher education consultant Mara Dolan feels that students “need a gap year,” because they’re “not ready to begin college,” stating that it’s “ironic that more schools are telling students to take a break and then overseeing their experience.”
“It’s certainly consistent with the idea of what a college education provides, which is something more than a degree,” Dolan said. “It’s developing the whole student so that they can become higher functioning individuals, when they go out in the world.”
Despite the growing trend, Carapezza says that it’s “unrealistic” for many families to have their children take a gap year. “Buying plane tickets and passports and visas before spending a whole year overseas can be expensive for students and the vast majority of public colleges and universities,” he said.
Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce agrees that “Extending this down towards the bottom 2,000 colleges in America, the first barrier will be they simply can’t afford to do it.”
“If we’re talking about well-heeled kids who get to make a lot of mistakes — take a lot of risks in their college career — and will make it because they have the backing from their parents and the school, I think it’s a very good idea,” Carnevale said. “I would be worried about it for less advantaged kids.”
Carapezza notes that the concerns are “because research shows creating any kind of gap in formal education is most harmful to low-income, non traditional students.”
“While gap years are becoming more common,” Carapezza indicated, “they’re still quite rare in the US. Fewer than two percent of students who get accepted to schools decide to take a year off before attending.”
There are certainly pros and cons to the gap year concept. Here’s a checklist for how you can know whether you should go through with it or not.
Yes: You Already Have A Clear Idea Of What You Want To Do.
One of the great advantages of taking a so-called gap year is in trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. College is expensive enough without you panhandling through a number of different courses with no sense of direction or engagement. If you actually have to pay for it, this fact becomes all too clear in a hurry. The time of free public education and sleeping through class is over. Once you cross the podium and collect your high school diploma, the world stops cutting you breaks. Many students find this out to their disadvantage by jumping in to college classes without any more a sense of maturity than they had senior year. If you’re not at least exercising your curiosity by the time the summer before your freshman year of college rolls around, then we would suggest that you take off for a year to lay the groundwork of your independence. Get an apartment and a job, or, if your family can afford it, take an extended vacation.
Even if you can’t afford it, consider signing up for the Peace Corps or some volunteer effort in which you give yourself a mission and the time to accomplish it.
No: You’d Rather Pursue A Skill.
College is not for everyone, nor should it be. The world is a big place, and it takes all kinds. And lately, certificate owners have proven themselves just as capable (if not more capable) of earning a good living as college graduates. If you’d rather pursue a career where you get to work with your hands or engage in computer programming, app building, or entrepreneurship, there is no law that says you have to go to college to do it. In fact, you could cause more harm than good by taking a bunch of classes you don’t need at high prices. Strike while your debts are low and your brain is geared up for the challenge, and you could be enjoying a great career by the time your classmates are getting their general education requirements out of the way.
Yes: Your School Of Choice Offers A Gap Year Program.
If you aren’t sure about what you want to do for a living, and your school is with Tufts as one of the growing throng that are paying for you to figure things out via the gap year plan, then you should seriously think about pursuing that option. There aren’t many times in life when someone will pay you to live free and clear of the obligations of work and school — and possibly pay for you to travel abroad, for that matter. When those opportunities arise, you should take them.
No: You Can’t Afford It.
Whether through time or money, your gap year should be something that you can afford to do. Thinking about affordability in terms of time and money will help you realize the sacrifices that are involved in such a decision. And we say “sacrifices” with no negative connotation. Life is filled with sacrifices, but you don’t always know this until after the high school years. The problem with this delay is that you may be forced to start making them as soon as your freshman year of college. For every decision that you make, there is another decision that you will have to leave on the table. A gap year may seem like “time off” or a “break” from the outset, but if you’re doing it right, it will be anything but. If you cannot afford to give up the time — and if you cannot find any feasible way to pay for it — then it could end up doing more harm than good.
A gap year can be the perfect starting point for the rest of your life, but if you don’t use it correctly, it could end up setting you back a lot further than the year you end up taking. Have a good reason for it, and use it to accomplish the goal of figuring out which path you want to travel. Whatever you do, don’t let it take over your life, or you’ll be at a serious disadvantage for years to come.
[Image via TripClocker.com]