Gap year offers real-world experiences

infographic+by+Megan+Goyette

infographic by Megan Goyette

Ronel Ghidey

[heading size=”18″]Gap year opens students’ eyes to outside world[/heading] With gap year programs becoming a more financially available option for students, high school graduates like Hayley Wilson, an alumna of 2015, have decided to take one as an alternative to traditional graduate plans.
Gap year is a program connecting high school graduates to their future plans, as graduates can choose different places around the world to study or volunteer for a year or two before returning to the workforce or attending a four-year college.
For Wilson, that was the plan. After the rush of her last days in America, trying to spend as much time as possible with friends and family while packing for the year ahead, Wilson left for Cambridge, England to do an apprenticeship at a local church that she had made personal connections with. Her travels didn’t come without sacrifice, though. This year, she’ll only see her family a total of two weeks.
Despite the distance from her family, Wilson said her choice to take a year off was beneficial and that it changed her perspective on not only her life but the world around her.
“Going in, I had the gap year mindset: this is just a year of my life that I am dedicating to service and ministry and then I will go back to the U.S. and go to college as planned. Being here for three months now, I have already learned so much about myself, my identity as an American, the English culture and my faith,” Wilson said. “I was warned that a gap year would change my perspective on the future drastically, and how true this is. For me, this has meant applying to universities in the UK now as well, since I hope to continue learning from the wonderful, odd culture I’ve been living in, as well as continuing my education.”
Contrary to common belief that taking a year off from school might make students lose their drive for education, a study from the Wall Street Journal shows that nearly 90 percent of students who take a gap year return to school. Also, more than 60 percent of those students take their grades and school more seriously after, and even score better on standardized testing.
Guidance counselor Leslie Kersha said the reason there’s still only a few students in these programs is that most people don’t know much about them.
“I had one student who has gone through the Americorp program, and he really just wanted to travel and just have the opportunity to meet new people at a different location,” Kersha said. “For students like him, even if it’s Americorp, they usually want to take a break from school while still having an experience that would help them build a resume and just be a positive influence on them. But in the end I think that it’s important to figure out the right fit. Some students who it may be very beneficial for are those who aren’t ready for the college rigor, or don’t know what they want to do; there are all sorts of reasons.”
Regardless of the statistics and the increase of students choosing to study or travel abroad directly after high school, gap years are still not a commonly used option.
[quote cite=”Hayley Wilson”]Going in, I had the gap year mindset: this is just a year of my life that I am dedicating to service and ministry and then I will go back to the U.S. and go to college as planned.[/quote] Although there’s no specific measurement for students who take gap years, a recent survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles showed that out of the 300,000 incoming college freshmen, only 1.2 percent waited a year to enter college.
Senior Anna Hickman will be a part of that 1.2 percent.
Of the many abroad programs available, she’s choosing between three different programs. One is Link Year, a program based out of Branson, Missouri. that focuses on equipping their participants spiritually and also providing opportunity to gain college credit. Another is Food Corp, which is a group through Americorp whose mission is to provide volunteering services within the U.S. Food Corp, gives grant money to certain individuals that can go towards tuition or student debt and has a program in Amsterdam where she would live and serve at a Christian hostel open to the public.
Hickman says that although she’s still applying to colleges, she’s set on doing a gap year because she’s unsure of what she wants her future to hold.
“I want to take a gap year for many reasons. For one I’m not super set on one college yet and I also have no idea what I want to major in, not because I haven’t discovered a passion but because there are so many things I’m passionate about.” Hickman said. “Also, this is the best time for me to just travel, have fun and simply learn. I don’t want to be ignorant to the world around me.”
Wilson agrees with Hickman on her decision to take a year to travel abroad, as she wished to explore the cultures of the world outside the United States.
“I’ve learned that as Americans we tend to think we have all the answers and that our way is the best way. We need to learn from those around us and teach each other, as well,” Wilson said. “No one has all the answers, or necessarily the right ones, but it is so important for us to be able to talk through and better understand our differences and where people are coming from.”
art by Megan Goyette
Are you planning on taking a gap year? Leave a comment below!