Gap Years for Every Student: How to Make the Most of the Opportunity

Why and How?

By on August 3rd, 2016
BootsnAll
In the three months since first daughter Malia Obama announced that she’d be deferring her enrollment to Harvard in favor of taking a Gap Year, the media attention shined on the concept of students taking a year off to travel has skyrocketed.

In the USA, taking a Gap Year is a fairly foreign concept, but in other countries, the UK, Australia, and some of the EU nations, it’s long been considered a rite of passage to delay advanced academic studies to spend a year in the world focused on experiential education, internship, volunteer work, personal development, and gaining that all important real world experience to round out the classroom learning.

“A Gap Year is not so much a year ‘off’ of school as it is a year ‘on’ your own terms…”
A Gap Year is not so much a year “off” of school as it is a year “on” your own terms used to, as Holly Bull puts it,  “Nibble around the edges of a career,” experiment with diverse interests, and pursue passions that may clarify a student’s career path going forward. Katie Bateman, a career advisor at the University of Gloucestershire was quoted in The Guardian as saying about Gap Years and how they can boost career potential,  “Taking a year out can set you apart from a crowd of other applicants.”

Business Insider cites Robert Clagett, a former senior admissions official at Harvard. He says that students who take gap years, like Miss Obama, “will frequently be more mature, more focused, and more aware of what they want to do with their college education” when they do enroll in college.

And the data reflects his observations: At Middlebury, researchers found that students who took a gap year have shown a “clear pattern” of attaining higher GPA’s than those that didn’t take gap years, even controlling for the student’s performance in high school.”

Planning a gap year? We can help!

Why a Gap Year?

female student on a gap year

On the question of whether your child should take a Gap Year, Psychology Today suggested that, among those who may benefit are “Students who could use real-world broadening. Most high school graduates have a narrow world view. They’ve spent most of their life behind a desk. A well-crafted gap year can broaden perspective.”
“Most high school graduates have a narrow world view. They’ve spent most of their life behind a desk. A well-crafted gap year can broaden perspective.”-Psychology Today
The benefits of taking a Gap Year aren’t just a matter of opinion. The American Gap Association’s National Alumni Survey of Gap Year students and other research reports that:

  • 90 percent of students who took a Gap Year returned to college within a year.
  • Students who have taken a Gap Year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs.
  • For most students, gap experiences have an impact on their choice of academic major and career.
  • In 2010, young adults ages 25–34 with a bachelor’s degree earned 114 percent more than young adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, 50 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree.
  • Gap Year students are perceived to be ‘more mature, more self-reliant and independent’ than non-Gap Year students.
  • 88 percent of Gap Year graduates report that their Gap Year had significantly added to their employability.
  • The take home message: Gap Years are great for students and they’re on the rise for American students.

A Gap Year on Every Resume


Gap years for a better career
One of our goals, at BootsnAll, is a Gap Year on every resume. For more than 20 years we’ve been dedicated to helping people make their dreams of long-term and round-the-world travel a reality. Why does it matter so much? Because we realize that sometimes the world is the best teacher and there are always things that are very important to learn but can’t be contained within the four walls of a classroom. We believe the Obama administration’s creation of the Study Abroad Office, in 2015, with increased emphasis on sending American students overseas was a step in the right direction.

“Traditionally, Gap Years have been perceived as the domain of the privileged children of wealthy families.”
The question that is hotly debated, of course, is that of economic parity. Traditionally, Gap Years have been perceived as the domain of the privileged children of wealthy families. While statistics indicate that 18% of students taking a Gap Year come from families with an income of more than $200K a year, 19% came from families with incomes between $50-100K annually . What does that mean? That the value of a Gap Year is widely recognized across the socio-economic spectrum and even families in the lower to middle income brackets are investing in the experience for the educational benefit of their students.

Gap Year Costs


gap year student winter travel
For those willing to sleuth and do the work there are ways to create amazing, international Gap Year experiences for students at the lower end of the economic totem pole. Julia Rogers,  of EnRoute Consulting, works specifically with Gap Year students. In her recent Huffington Post piece on the Inherent Value of Gap Years, Not Just for the 1% she says:

“I don’t believe it’s useful to try and pigeonhole the gap year concept as appropriate for only one type of student.”
I don’t believe it’s useful to try and pigeonhole the gap year concept as appropriate for only one type of student. Millennials face a vast array of challenges when entering adulthood that sometimes correlate with their socioeconomic status, but sometimes not. Rather, the gap year should be framed as an opportunity to creatively address the different challenges that students face in the year leading up to college.”

For example, low income and first-generation college students can sometimes arrive at college academically unprepared and with additional stressors that unfortunately lead to high dropout rates.

According to experts, creating access to support networks and developing life skills are known to improve retention and graduation rates. Promoting a fully-funded, mentored experiential program aimed at preparing students for college would undoubtedly lead to better outcomes for these students once they arrive on campus. There are already several programs in place that offer financial aid and fill this niche (such as Global Citizen Year, Dynamy Internship Year and Carpe Mundi).”

Joanna Nesbit wrote, for the Washington Post, about a host of options for young people seeking to lower the cost of a Gap Year and create affordable options for themselves, from volunteer and internship options, to scholarships, consultants and lower cost programs.

The Travel Access Project is a growing, open-source project at the intersection of education and adventure that will deepen the travel learning experience of any journey, completely for free.

“The good news is that there are options for motivated students, regardless of family income.”
A number of scholarships are available to young people seeking educational Gap Years, through Gap Year program providers, colleges and universities, and private organizations.

The good news is that there are options for motivated students, regardless of family income.

Creating Your Gap Year

The best Gap Year experiences are those that are planned carefully to include adequate structure to support the student as she grows in independence, with enough freedom to provide the opportunity to practice the life skills being gained. Ideally, there should be an educational component and reflective learning taking place before, during, and after the Gap experience.

Look for a blend of cohort style, mentored learning experiences with work, volunteering, or internship in addition to an adventure to ensure that all of the bases are covered and a student grows forward in a supported manner.

Spend time, up front, considering your goals and interests and how to use the time available for your Gap Year. The most satisfying outcomes are the result of careful planning and leveraging the resources within your family, your community, and the best of what’s out there on the web.

Want to read more about Gap Year Travel? Check out the articles below:

  • Planning and Supporting Your Child’s Gap Year
  • The Pros and Cons of a Gap Year
  • 8 Reasons to Take a Gap Year
  • Photo Credits: shutterstock.com, Vuk Vukmirovic / shutterstock.com, Poprotskiy Alexey / shutterstock.com, Alexander Image / shutterstock.com, Andreas Zerndl.