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Are you taking a Gap Year?

Uploaded: Apr 20, 2015
(Written by Lori McCormick)

Have you considered taking a gap year? This isn't a question posed often to students but perhaps should be.

Often, students are burned out by the time they graduate from high school and the thought of starting another four rigorous years of study can be exhausting ? and stressful. Gap years are taken to spend time re-evaluating college and career paths. And, frequently, gap years are spent outside of the student's community; this way they really get to experience the world through a different lens.

Typically, there are three forms of gap years most recommended ? Study Abroad, Work Study or AmeriCorps (or similar Service/Work program). It is also recommended that a student who is planning on taking a gap year contact their college and let them know of their plans. Most colleges will allow a student to defer enrollment for one year (two years if in AmeriCorps).

How can you determine if taking a gap year is right for you?

First, let's explore the Pro's.

During students' gap years, they will discover not only new information about themselves, but new information about the world around them and the cultures within it. Some students will take a gap year to work or get hands-on experience in an intended field of study to prepare themselves for the classroom later on. Learning from an experiential perspective will enable a student to contribute valuable broad-range discussions in the classroom. Another pro to consider is joining a work-study program like AmeriCorps. Students can earn money for tuition while being a part of a larger experience ? one of community service, self-exploration and life skills. Many colleges even offer grants to students who have completed their AmeriCorps service hours. This could make college tuition more affordable in addition to an invaluable work experience.

Then there is the common story of the student who got a job in their gap year and because of it came to appreciate the virtues of continuing with their education. These are students who deceived themselves by thinking the grass might be greener in the work world. To their sorrow, they found it wasn't true.

And now the Con's.

When a student decides to take a gap year, they are postponing their college plans. For some students, that might become more of a challenge to get back on track when the gap year ends. It is my recommendation that if you decide to take a gap year, it is through a structured organization or program.

To learn more about what a gap year is and how it has evolved over the decades, review this link.

Traditional paths of attending college right after high school are also excellent choices. The thing to remember here is that there are CHOICES. And whatever path you choose, find value in it, learn from it, and take advantage of your opportunities.
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Posted by michellev, a resident of Triple El,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:07 pm

I know this isn't for everyone, but some students are able to do a gap year that isn't structured. My son, Paly '14, is in the heart of a deeply gratifying, life changing gap year and he planned the whole thing himself, working and saving as he went to pay for it: 4.5 months of solo world travel including 4 weeks of teaching in India, an internship with a local start up company and he just started the Pacific Crest Trail (he's on mile 230 as of today and will arrive within 100 miles of his college in Canada just in time to start in 4 months). His college not only gave him a deferment, but they awarded him the president's scholarship for his accomplishments during this year. My son has said over and over that taking an academic break was the best decision he could ever have made.

Posted by Lori McCormick , a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:24 pm

Michellev- thank you for sharing your son's gap year story. And congrats for being awarded a scholarship at his college. I hope other students read your comment and find inspiration, as I have.

-Lori McCormick

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:05 am

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:13 am

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Posted by AlexDeLarge, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 23, 2015 at 4:35 pm

One of my kids took a gap half year. Went away to college, partied his way to a healthy D average and came back home to PA. Started attending Foothill College and now was just accepted at UCLA. He had something like a 2.5 GPA when he graduated from Paly. Some kids just dont fit the mold and they've got to figure it out.

Posted by duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 24, 2015 at 11:43 am

What did you child do for the 1/2 year at home? Work? Attend classes at Fthill to prepare for another college? Decision making at my home as well for this same sceniero.

Posted by AlexDeLarge, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 24, 2015 at 2:17 pm

@ duveneck parent

He found employment consisting of leaning up against a wall in his uncles restaurant. He quickly deduced that was not his cup of tea and was more than happy to begin Foothill. Coincidently two of chums walked the same path, he'll be rooming in So Cal with one and the other will be attending UCSC.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Apr 24, 2015 at 10:08 pm

This is interesting.

I think that amongst those I know thinking or have taken a gap year, the great majority are boys, at least I can't think of any girls known to me.

There is something going on in the boys' development that is telling them not to rush into their future college plans much more than used to be the case. The maturity level of boys in my experience is that they are wary of the college experience and need something to give them an emotional charge preparing them for young adulthood and I think gap year is something particularly beneficial to them.

Why are our boys not prepared emotionally or mature enough for the college experience? Is there something particularly lacking in their high school experience that makes the idea of taking a year off to "find themselves" attractive or necessary.

I am not talking about the travel or alternative mode of study experience, but the need to get a job, be lazy, or just "afraid to grow up" idea that some of them appear to voice.

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Whisman Station,
on Apr 25, 2015 at 12:44 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I just could not handle a full time job at AMD and a full ( a typical 18 credit ) credit load at SJSU, so I ended my stay at SJSU. The Engineering Department did not have a real Computer Science degree yet. Only a FORTRAN CS course that I Aced with no problem. I learned how to keypunch on the Model 029 keypunch machine and had to hand decks of cards to the acolytes that tended the IBM god they prayed to.
Me, I was already training at home and at AMD for the future; I had built several S-100 computers that were the working, bleeding edge of the microcomputer revolution.
I also became a part-time student at Foothill College and I was able to get back into the Electives I needed for the Engineering Common Core without being exposed to politics that made it harder to get the courses I needed as a freshman at SJSU.
I learned the main reasons that I had to go to a college in the first place:

I learn how to do preliminary research into any subject material to find the answer(s) to the question(s) I may have about any subject.

I learned ( the hard way ) that to pass important and necessary classes, you MUST kiss the butt of the person teaching the class and NEVER disagree even when you know that the stuff being taught is outdated.
There were no degrees offered for Computer Science or Test Engineer. Yet I was doing both in the SFBA until I got a chance to do some bleeding edge work in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Nothing to prove, no butts to kiss, just stay on that bleeding edge.

That was the state of the College System forty years ago

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Apr 27, 2015 at 12:48 am

Great profiles on 6 Paly Alumnus (all '14) who took gap years: Web Link

RE Paly Parent: "I think that amongst those I know thinking or have taken a gap year, the great majority are boys, at least I can't think of any girls known to me."
I haven't noticed this... the number of students taking gap years is not huge, but I'd say from what I've seen it's about 50/50. At most I'd say it's 60/40? But the number of students taking gap years isn't massive to begin with.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Apr 27, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Both our kids took a gap year, for different reasons. Our son fit the mold of not being very sure what he wanted out of college and used the time to mature. His experience was quite structured through some international charitable work organizations (Costa Rica and Galapagos). Our daughter seized on the gap year as an adventure and a way to use up some of her wanderlust. She rolled her own, found some organizations looking for English tutors (Peru and Vietnam), and traveled in between times.

They both are very glad they did so.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Apr 27, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Gap Year has been very popular in the UK and Ireland as well as other countries for sometime for both boys and girls, but it seems to have only made its way here in the last ten years or so.

I said from my own experience more boys than girls opted to do this, not just from Palo Alto but from all over Silicon Valley and further afield, as anecdotally from friends and family.

I think the girls may be the ones who are doing the structured route and look on it as a stepping stone to the college transition in a positive way, whereas the boys are using it as a means to delay the onset of becoming mature adults.

Now I am not trying to say this in a negative or derogatory way, but just as an observation that boys are feeling less prepared to become men in our society. I think there has been a pendulum swing against what used to be called manly, masculine or even macho. I think that there have been societal trends to make them less likely to stand up for themselves, to man up to a situation and perhaps become a little more feminine. Their masculinity is buried beneath a layer of protectiveness which the old school playground used to foster. When a boy is afraid of standing up to the class bully and told to report it, or if he does stand up to the bully he is viewed as the aggressor, then the normal testosterone manner for dealing with life's problems has been taken away. This is going to cause a delay in development and this may be the way many are dealing with it.

If the average high school graduate male is trying to prolong his adolescence for another year, it just may be the price we are paying for not allowing him to be a boy when he was younger.

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