December 26, 2019

The Gap Year Edge

A gap year is most typically taken between high school and college, or during college, to explore one’s interests in a dynamic hands-on fashion. Students can combine an array of experiences from group programs focused on cultural immersion and service, to skill-based options such as learning film making or how to run a recording studio, to gaining certifications, e.g. Wilderness EMT. Worldwide internships and volunteer work can also be included in the mix. Gap year options can span a weekend, a month, three months, on up to full year programs. Costs range widely with some placements providing housing and food for labor and others involving fees/tuition.

The benefits of taking gap time are varied and numerous:

  • A chance to choose, create, and own one’s life at an early age
  • The opportunity to relate classroom learning to the world
  • Time to rest/rejuvenate from the onerous aspects of schooling (the gap year is particularly effective for students with learning differences who often thrive outside a formal classroom setting)
  • Exploring an interest in a particular field before pursuing it as a major or career
  • Increased clarity and focus in college resulting in a saving of time and money (the average number of college years is 5-6, not 4, with students changing majors or school in their effort to determine a passion; gap year students are invariably more efficient, finishing college in a shorter period of time than their non-gap year peers
  • Building a resume and gaining practical skills before college or the work world
  • Increased self-confidence from handling new situations away from home
  • Greater financial awareness through having to focus on a budget
  • Smoother transitions into college and the work world post college

There are those who may assume that taking a gap year is now a fairly simple task with the aid of the internet and various books and articles referencing this option for students. The reality is that it is not so easy to do on one’s own. Potential pitfalls include poorly run programs (where safety or insufficient activity for students can be an issue), too much down time at home due to lack of sufficient planning or structure, or socially isolated placements which can negatively color the whole experience.

Founded in 1980, the Center for Interim Programs has been doing gap year counseling work longer than anyone in the US and we are highly practiced at assisting students and parents through the gap year process. We have visited numerous programs in site, know most program directors well, and can offer program feedback from our over 8,000 alumni.

We offer anyone who is interested a free 90-minute brainstorming session where we map out a potential gap year based on a student’s interest. For those on a tight budget, we provide scholarships for our fee and recommend vetted, low cost placements so that the year itself does not have to be financially prohibitive. Even for those who have the means, there is no need to spend a lot of money on a gap year.

Most adults recognize that it is harder to take time later in one’s life to explore interests in this way. The reality is that this is a jewel of a period of time in which to gain personal clarity and power. If students can learn this early on, it will stand them in very good stead no matter what they choose to do in college and beyond.

A recent quote from one of our alumni mothers illustrates the practical effects of taking gap time for her daughter:

She gained much from her semester period in London, and all the courses/workshops she took in film making led to her new career—production first for a topflight advertising agency...where she interned  and then worked her way through the post-production department in both creative and technical roles...she is now head of production at a major production house...a position she recently achieved. She seems to thrive on the responsibility and challenge.

This hands on learning is invaluable and a perfect complement to formal academics.

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