Recently, the parent of one of my students told me that her daughter’s hairdresser noticed a difference after she returned from her gap year. Although he only sees her a few times a year, he observed, "You can just tell she's changed." And he meant it as a compliment.
As a gap year advisor, I work with students who engage in wildly different gap year activities: Studying sculpture in Florence, whitewater rafting in Bhutan, working on organic farms in New Zealand, mentoring troubled youth in Chicago. And while these activities are very different, they are all worthwhile, challenging pursuits. So my main advice to parents and students when they ask me how to plan a gap year is to design a year that challenges and inspires them. It is a worthwhile investment.
Provided a student actively engages in a well-planned gap year, parents can expect to see some of the following benefits:
1. Maturation, self reliance and independence
Giving students a chance to prove themselves in the real world will equip them with the decision-making skills to excel in college and beyond.
2. Renewed love of learning
Even the most scholarly of students sometimes cite academic burnout as a reason for taking a gap year. A gap year allows students to discover that learning is not confined to a classroom, and that renewed sense of curiosity can make a huge difference in academic engagement.
3. Global perspective
Traveling, studying or volunteering abroad provokes tremendous insight in young people. Students are forced to examine their value system and learn how to empathize and learn from cultures different from their own. Professors often say that gap year students help deepen classroom conversations by drawing from what they learned while traveling.
4. Developing a Passion
Young people today have heard from the time they were tots to “do what you love." But many students have not had a chance to explore their interests in a real world setting. A gap year can allow a student to delve deeper into hobbies or subjects in a low-stakes setting before committing to a major in college. And discovering what you don’t like can be just as valuable as finding your true calling!
5. Hablo Español!
It may sound cliché, but it’s not an exaggeration to say in our globalizing world it’s crucial to know another language. Many gap year programs encourage students to learn the local language and it’s not uncommon for students to become fluent over the course of their time away. In addition to engaging the brain, practicing a second language on a gap year can lead to more varied job prospects in the future.
All the subtle changes that occur during a gap year develop a more mature, well-rounded individual that is better prepared to tackle college and beyond. There are obvious benefits that come when engaging in volunteer work or experiential education, but you’ll also be pleasantly surprised to witness the gradual transformation of your child as they discover themselves and the world around them.