It is summer time, and families are taking a break from their busy school-year schedules to try some new activities, visit new places and build stronger relationships. These benefits can be had by students who take a “gap year” too. A gap year is usually thought of as a year-long break between high school and college, but there are other ways to have a gap year experience. In this blog, I will share with you my gap year adventures and what I learned as well as a list of gap year options for your students.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my gap year preparation began during the summer between my sophomore and junior year when I was a Rotary Club summer exchange student to Japan. The trip was an emersion in a culture vastly different than my own yet with people who had the core characteristics of kindness and generosity that were comfortingly familiar.
Soweto, South Africa 3) In my waitress garb, 4) At a picnic with South African friends.
Not all gap years are the same. While my gap year involved a lot of travel as well as working as a teacher and a waitress, my son took a break from school for two years to work at his full time career. After getting an A.A. in Business and an A.S. in Automotive Technology, he worked as an auto tech for two years, learning his craft and saving his money. He then went back to school and got his B.S. in Automotive Management and graduated debt free.
Gap years are growing in popularity in the U.S. and are already common in the UK where approximately 200,000 students delay going to college for a year. A number of American universities, including Harvard, are encouraging incoming freshman to take a gap
1. Take a Break and Get Healthy: A break from academics can help a student feel energized to start school again when he or she returns. Twelve years is a long time to keep the same school schedule, and a break can allow students to improve their health by getting more sleep, and taking time to exercise, and learning to eat well.
2. Become More Independent: Most high school seniors have spent the last four years with the same set of peers, dependent on detailed daily instruction from teachers with an ever present family safety net. Trying something new or going someplace you have never been before - all on your own - will teach you to trust yourself which builds self-confidence.
4. Learn Adult Skills: Some students graduate without the ability to balance a checkbook, cook a meal or run a load of laundry. Working on these skills can make the transition to living on one’s own much easier.
5. Do an Internship: Perhaps you are interested in science and have the opportunity to go on a research trip. Maybe you sing and dance and can get to a part in a play on Broadway. There a lots of websites with intern options in business, marketing, hospitality, agriculture, travel, education and more.
6. Build a Portfolio: If you have a dream career in mind that requires a portfolio—and you don’t have one – a gap year is a good time to build one. Careers that require a portfolio include: Writing, Graphic Design, Artist, Website design, Photography, and Modeling.
7. Earn Some Money: College is expensive, and having some extra cash on hand can help reduce the amount of student debt needed to go to school. (The issue of student debt could be a whole other blog.) In addition, you will learn work skills such as being on time, getting along with other employees, communicating with customers, and having a positive attitude – all skills that are sought after by most employers. Or – you could become an entrepreneur and start you own business! (Again – another topic for another blog.)
8. Travel: There is a whole world out there with a variety of cultures and new experiences just waiting for those who are willing to make the effort to go. Travel can be expensive, but there are ways to be frugal with your travel dollars. Some countries have farm stays where you work for part of the day on the farm and get the rest of the day to tour around. You can even choose to pick fruit in Australia. I helped fund my travel to Japan by teaching English both at a high school during the day and, in the evening, to executives at a brake manufacturing company. I have met students who have worked at resorts, national parks and even cruise ships where their room and board is paid for along with a pay check and a chance to see new places.
9. Volunteer: There are so many places that could use extra help, both at home and abroad. In addition to helping out, you could also get career training. Perhaps you want to work as a lawyer or doctor or vet someday. You can volunteer at a law office, hospital or vet clinic and learn whether or not the career you think you want is the right one for you. And volunteer jobs can sometimes lead to paying jobs. (I worked as a physical therapy aide while I was in college. I got the job by volunteering first.)
Choosing whether or not to take a gap year is a big decision, and it takes time as students study the options and discusses these plans with their families. For me, my gap year experiences were some of the most important of my life.
During a gap year, you may not be in a school setting, but you will be surprised by all you learn!
Wishing you joy on the journey,