Are You A Gap Year Candidate?

CSC_600According to the research, Gap Year graduates who have participated in a structured Gap Year are performing better in college (1-2 points in GPA), graduating earlier, proving more motivated in their studies, engaging more in campus activities, and are happier in their careers.

Join #CampusChat on Wednesday, February 27, 2013, at 9pm EST to be part of our Twitter Chat about Gap Years.

Although students have their own reasons for considering a Gap Year instead of going straight to college, the two most common reasons listed in Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson’s research are: burnout from the competitive pressure of high school and a desire ‘to find out more about themselves’. But, perhaps the most important factor in taking a Gap Year is that the student be the one making the final decision.

According to the research, Gap Year graduates who have participated in a structured Gap Year  are performing better in college (1-2 points in GPA), graduating earlier, proving more motivated in their studies, engaging more in campus activities, and are happier in their careers.

Gap Years don’t have to be expensive.  The typical pattern is to start with more structure during the Gap Year and ease into a more independent (and thus cheaper) experience.

My own Gap Year cost $4,500 for 7 months of travel and service in India and Southeast Asia.  I arranged my trips through Leapnow, Inc. who helped get me there and prepare for my journey.  When I got home I worked  to earn back some of what I had spent.

Another provider,  WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), costs only $35 plus travel expenses because you can work in exchange for room and board.  The WWOOF model is “self-selection” of your placement so a great deal of vetting should be the order of the day.

gap yearInstead of the DIY approach, another option is to work with a Gap Year consultant; those $2,000-$2,500 are dollars extremely well spent if you feel overwhelmed by the choices and decisions. That being said, there are also programs that can offer college credit, scholarships, and even Federal Financial Aid.

Gap Year programs aren’t shy with their testimonials…but the “good ones” are always in the eye of the beholder. In other words, even when a Gap Year falls apart – and it can happen – students STILL report being grateful for the experience and even in hindsight are eager to repeat it. So the real question is, what do you, the student, want?

I’m a big fan of the saying that ‘passion is a better predictor of success than IQ will ever be,’ and a Gap Year is perhaps the only chance a student will have to explore a particular passion.  Find something you’re interested in, and see if there’s a way to turn that passion into a living!

If you’re not working with a Gap Year consultant, then start by framing it in a timeline aligned with an academic calendar: fall, winter, spring, summer. Then, limit it down to either a part of the world, a particular interest (or potential career), or a language-focus.

Bottom line:  a Gap Year can, and should be, an integral part of your education and, if done in a structured way, most colleges are
eager to have you do one.

Ethan Knight has been working within the world of Gap Years since 1996, when he took his own Gap Year to India, Nepal and
Tibet.  After his Gap Year he returned to Willamette University where he graduated with a Bachelors degree in English and Philosophy.  In 2012, Ethan launched the American Gap Association, an accreditation and standards-setting organization for Gap Years recognized as such by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Read more about Ethan and the AGA on the AGA site:  About Us | What is a Gap Year.

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