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Mind the Gap (Year)

For many seniors the end of the school year is a time to reflect and breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve graduated, and the many years of hard work you’ve put in will soon yield dividends as you head to college in the fall. After all, the definition of the word commencement is “a beginning or start” and heading to college is the next logical beginning…right?

Not for everyone. In fact, taking a year off before heading to college – referred to as a gap year – is something that many universities actually encourage, including Harvard.  Dean of Admission, William Fitzsimmons, actually wrote an article entitled Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation outlining the reasons why a student should take a year off before beginning their university studies.  According to Fitzsimmons approximately 80-110 admitted students  defer their entrance to Harvard each year to take advantage of gap year opportunities.

According to the American Gap Association (AGA), a gap year accrediting organization, a gap year is defined as: “A structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers.”  One common reason many students decide to take a gap year is simple: they just aren’t ready for college.  Oftentimes a student needs a year to mature and grow as an individual.  Others have a desire to travel, volunteer or work so they can discover their vocational strengths before launching into an academic arena filled with uncertainty.

Gap year programs have been commonplace in the UK for years and have recently been gaining popularity worldwide.  A booming market has been created for students wishing to consider gap year options including international travel, language studies, and volunteer work. A bonus for some gap year participants is that many programs offer college credit in exchange for participation.

One program offering participants university credit is Carpe Diem Education’s yearlong Latitudes Program.  Latitudes participants can study environmental conservation in Tanzania, scale “Mount Doom” in New Zealand, or learn Thai in Southeast Asia along with other students.  In addition, the Latitudes program includes a 12-week solo volunteer/study placement in the student’s country of choice.  Recent participants have studied kung fu in China, worked with street children in Guatemala, and mastered organic gardening in Patagonia.

Another gap year program offering extensive travel opportunities for students is Where There Be Dragons. One example of a Dragons program is the Himalayan Studies Semester during which students spend 10 days in a Buddhist monastery, learn bronze casting in Kathmandu, and explore a rural Nepali village. Another program, The Rhythms of West Africa, provides students the opportunity to take drum and dance lessons, study the Fulani culture while in a home-stay, and explore human rights issues in Dakar, Senegal.

Students interested in traveling across several continents over the course of two semesters should consider Thinking Beyond Borders Global Gap Year.  Students in this program will study current global challenges and work to develop solutions as they travel between places such as Ecuador, Peru, South Africa and Cambodia. This unique program culminates in Washington, DC as students take what they’ve learned abroad and develop strategies for raising awareness of global issues.

There are many options for gap year experiences – some with hefty price tags and some that are free. No matter what their interest, any student interested in taking a year off before college can find a gap year program that is right for them in both scope and fee. Gap year programs provide students with the opportunity to grow and mature as young adults before beginning their university studies.  The opportunities to explore the world and volunteer make these programs a truly wonderful experience.

To see some examples of other gap year programs, and read more about why a gap year might be right for your child, please visit the American Gap Association website or check out the Estrela Consulting Pinterest Board Mind the Gap (Year).

Kristina L. Dooley, a Certified Educational Planner, is the founder of Estrela Consulting, an Independent Educational Consulting firm helping families around the world navigate the college, boarding school, and summer program search processes. If you would like to contact Kristina, please send a message to Kristina@EstrelaConsulting.com or visit www.EstrelaConsulting.com.


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