Ever wonder if a gap year could be a good option for your student?
Although common in many parts of the world, the idea of taking a year off between high school and college isn’t on the radar of most American students and their parents. But that scenario is changing as more families see the gap year’s huge potential.
Of course, for some students, a direct path from high school to college makes sense. But what if your student hasn’t zeroed in on a career—or perhaps isn’t even college bound? What if she’s burned out after four years of doing everything required to get into the right college and simply needs to take a break and recharge? Maybe he needs more maturity and life experience before launching into college full throttle? Or perhaps your student needs to earn some money to minimize—or eliminate—student loans altogether?
If any of these situations apply, then a gap year may be a great choice. Here are six benefits possible through a year-long sabbatical after high school:
1. Expanded horizons
A gap year often encourages young people to step out of their comfort zones. Worldviews are challenged—and often strengthened—and new cultural experiences better prepare students not only for college, but also for their purpose and calling in life.
Here, international travel is often seen as the top way to expand horizons. And while there’s a lot to be said for how time abroad develops empathy, compassion, resiliency, and adaptability in students, there can be many other ways to achieve these goals by staying closer to home—and without breaking the bank.
But for those students who do decide to travel out of the country—or even around the United States—a Google search on keywords such as “student travel” or “gap year travel” will yield hundreds of helpful resources to get them going in the right direction.
2. Recharged batteries
Burnout from the demands of high school can be a real thing for some students. Sometimes, the pressure to excel in not only coursework and college entrance exams, but also sports, extracurricular activities, and jobs can be overwhelming—so much so that some students finish high school in a fog and simply need some time to clear their heads before moving into an even more demanding college setting.
Under these circumstances, gap years offer a wonderful opportunity for students to take a break, try new things, and discover what they truly love. For some, this could involve taking short-term study courses to learn about things that interest them—in subjects they won’t have time for once they start college. For others, a gap year offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to focus on spiritual life—including uninterrupted time to study Scripture, meditate, and pray.
3. Mastery of new skills
Whether it’s foreign language immersion, assisting in classrooms as part of City Year, or developing public speaking skills as part of a Rotary International exchange, gap years offer a sky’s-the-limit array of opportunities to learn something new that easily translates into other areas down the road.
And given that most cities have a “sister city” somewhere in the world, one viable option is Sister Cities International, which sends students into communities worldwide as part of goodwill exchanges. Fortunately, many of these opportunities offer scholarships or stipends—helping make a gap year surprisingly affordable.
4. Service to others
Nowadays, volunteering in a nonprofit setting—in the U.S. or abroad—is very appealing to students. And for many, a gap year is the perfect way to give back and learn a lot about oneself and the world along the way. But it’s important to check your student’s motivation for volunteering to make sure that his or her heart is in the right place. If it’s all about doing some inexpensive international travel—and not unconditional service—then your student will be a burden.
However, if a heart of selfless service is driving your student, the possibilities are endless. Here, a great place to start is your home church. Which ministries does it support? From teaming up with church missionaries in the field to internships and working at a youth camp, gap students have many options to consider.
For example, your student could volunteer with an inner-city after-school program, animal shelter, or conservation or building project. Or he or she could visit shut-ins in the community, the elderly in nursing homes, deliver meals-on wheels, or help teach English at home or abroad.
5. Growth in maturity
For many students, a gap year affords students the unparalleled opportunity to stretch themselves and gain valuable perspective on what matters most. Depending on the life experience and maturity level of your student, this personal growth can come by living on their own for the first time; making daily decisions about meals, time management, and travel details; and building relationships with either friends who stay local or new friends abroad.
6. A head start on earning income
Let’s face it—college costs money. For some, getting a job during a gap year allows the student to make money and either cash flow college completely or offset the level of student debt significantly. Your student may even find a company that allows its employees to go to school while they work, or even pay part—or all—of the tuition. Bonus!
Bottom line: Taking a gap year is not a one-size-fits-all thing. There are many creative ways to structure a gap year to best suit your student’s goals, resources, and maturity level—and maximize the benefit for your student.