Pros and Cons of a Gap Year

(Mind the Gap)

There are no exact numbers as to how many people take a year off between high school and college, but it’s clear that interest is growing. A recent Forbes interview with the Council on International Educational Exchange cited a 294% increase in gap year fair attendance since 2010 and some schools are encouraging students to consider a break before starting freshman year.

BENEFITS OF A GAP YEAR

The concept of a gap year is easily misunderstood to mean taking time off from school to party or work, but a survey of “gappers” found that the less structured the time off, the less beneficial it is. Those who got the most out of taking a year off before college participated in programs that exposed them to new experiences — either in the United States or abroad. The survey found:

  • Gappers graduated in shorter time frames and had higher GPAs compared to the national average.
  • 59% said taking a gap year increased their interest in college.
  • 57% said the experience helped them pick a major.
  • 81% said they would be “very likely” to recommend taking a gap year to other incoming freshmen.
  • After graduation, gappers report higher levels of job satisfaction and civic participation in their communities than the national average.

WHO TAKES A GAP YEAR?

While comprehensive data on gappers is hard to come by, those who responded to the Temple University survey tended to be white, female and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Some parents may fear that their high school grads will lose focus during a gap year, which is why 63% of gappers in the survey chose to participate in a commercial program vs. 37% who designed their own gap year experience. The most common international destinations included Ecuador, Israel, India and Australia.

MAKE THE MOST OF A GAP YEAR

Those who enjoyed their gap year experiences the least stayed close to home and spent the year partying and/or working for money. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful independently designed gap year, but gappers who reported getting the most out of their time:

  • Joined a structured travel or volunteer abroad program with peers who also were on a gap year.
  • Did something different – 95% of gappers said being in a new environment was the No. 1 benefit.
  • Managed their own money.
  • Did something for a cause.
  • Kept a journal.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?

If you don’t have the means to pay for a gap year program or if you would prefer to do something meaningful and challenging, consider applying to City Year, an AmeriCorps program for people age 18-25 willing to spend a year working as a mentor for students in low-performing American schools. Housing is not provided, but City Year placements do come with a bi-weekly stipend.

If you want an international experience, consider GlobalCitizenYear.org, which charges tuition on a sliding scale based on your financial need, or teaching English as a second language (TEFL). It is harder to find TEFL positions when you’re under 21, but not impossible. Regardless of your age, you will have to get TEFL-qualified, which requires taking an accredited TEFL course. Research organizations thoroughly and don’t send personal information such as your Social Security number, passport or driver’s license. Legitimate recruiters charge the school, not teachers, so beware of anyone who asks to take a percentage of your salary or make you pay upfront for a work visa.

Still not sure? Start saving money, look for scholarships, join discussion groups and attend info sessions. Sometimes you can’t see how it’s going to happen, but taking the first step reveals the next. With persistence, you can reach your gap year destination, or somewhere even better and more unexpected!

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia



[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]