More than 100 students, parents and guidance professionals poured into Seven Bridges Middle School to learn more about gap year programs on a cold wintry night this past January. The first in our area, the gap year fair–hosted by the Horace Greeley PTA and organized by USA Gap Year Fairs, provided a wealth of information about this growing trend.
The idea of taking a gap year came into the spotlight in 2016 when the Obamas announced that Malia Obama had been accepted to Harvard but was taking a gap year. While it is not known exactly how many students opt for a gap year, TD Ameritrade reported in a recent survey that more than 35 percent of high school students are considering it.
Motivation for considering a gap year was varied as the students in attendance who hailed not only from Chappaqua but also surrounding school districts including Somers, Byram Hills and Bedford. Students and parents perused several booths at the fair and spoke with representatives offering the following options:
- Travel and adventure: Costa Rica, Beijing, Japan, Jordan, Brazil, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Borneo. There were literally programs for students to choose from anywhere in the world.
- Volunteer service work: It’s all about self-discovery and immersion. How about combining a thirst for travel with a service-learning project? Rebuild homes in the Galapagos Islands or assist with farming practices in the Amazon rainforest.
- Work on environmental causes: Students work in eco-tourism in Costa Rica or on installing solar systems in rural Kenya.
- Explore interests: Live in an artist community in Ireland, immerse in a language program abroad, or spend a semester at sea!
- Have a religious experience: Experience a Buddhist monastery or study Hebrew and dance in Jerusalem.
- Build college-readiness skills: Thirty percent of students won’t make it to their second year of college, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Report published in 2014. All programs provide students with a year of maturity, but some focus on college readiness and independent living skills in a more in-depth way.
Students were not the only ones driving attendance. After four years of academic rigor, juggling sports and activities, SAT prep, etc., some parents were pushing their kids to explore the fair. As one parent expressed “I just want her (my daughter) to take a year to breathe and just be.”
Sophie Meinen, a 2018 graduate of Horace Greeley who just finished three months in Bolivia and Peru, shared her experiences with the parents and students in attendance. The Inside Press wanted to know what motivated her to embark on her gap year adventure; “Chappaqua has very intense academics and I definitely felt burned out by the end of high school. I was really eager to just take a break from all of that before I went to college and I’m really glad that I did. I may have not been learning from a traditional model, but I do think that I have learned a lot and I’m eager to keep learning in college. I also think that I have a better sense of what I want to study which will make me choose classes that I’ll be really engaged with.”
How does a gap year impact how universities view applicants?
The answer is almost universally positive. It does help to understand a specific university’s policies and procedures. Many have a statement regarding gap years right on their website, or you can search by state under “University Deferral Polices for Gap Years” on the Gap Year Association website at https://www.gapyearassociation.org/
Why would colleges and universities encourage the gap year?
The Gap Year Association provides some studies that indicate students who take a year off actually do better–with higher graduation rates and GPAs.
The following resources may assist families in search of the perfect gap year opportunity:
Links and Resources
Gap Year Association
USA Gap Year Fairs – also provides lists and descriptions of about 50 programs: usagapyearfairs.org/fairs
Gap Matcher – enter your interests and preferences and Gap Matcher suggests programs that might be worth looking into: gapmatcher.com