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A gap year

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More students should take gap years before going to college

Gap years change students in ways that society needs -- and much more should be done to make them a possibility for all students, not just the privileged, Joe O'Shea writes.


Joe O'Shea
January 16, 2014

Over the next few weeks, students around the country will receive offers of admission to colleges and universities.

But before students jump online and accept an offer, I have one piece of advice for them: They might be better off not going to college next year.
Moreover, there are many advantages and disadvantages on whether or not a student should take a gap year. Eventually if you are struggling academically you can always get help to stay on track, you’ll meet new people on campus, you’ll be more mature in college, you’ll have a better understanding. After high school I didn’t want to meet new people I was shy person, but as I attended trade schools for training I got the feel of what attending college might be but with the students. Before deciding on whether you want to take a gap year a person should think.

Instead, they should think about taking a gap year, to defer college for a year to live and volunteer in a developing country.

In the traditional sort of gap year, students immerse themselves in a developing community to volunteer with a nonprofit organization by teaching, working with local youth, or assuming some other community role.

Gap years have been rising in popularity in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere.

I’ve spent the last few years researching what happens to young people when they have such an immersive experience in a community radically different from their own.
Taking a “gap year” off between high school and university has become a popular option among many young people. This time off provides a break after many years of formal study. Some students use this time to travel around the world, others volunteer and still others begin working. The idea behind each of these activities is to do something hands-on and refreshing, which enables young people to learn more about themselves and their place in the world around them.

The answer, in short, is that gap years can help change students in ways the world needs.

The challenges of our time demand an educational system that can help young people to become citizens of the world.

We need our students to be smart, critical and innovative thinkers but also people of character who use their talents to help others.
There are many points about taking a gap year it can be a good opportunity to meet new people and also you can improve on your people skills. Another point is that it can give you time to actually think about the right career you would want to follow up on. Taking a gap year can help you on discovering different aspects in life. There may be a student who doesn’t want to attend college right away that can be a great opportunity for them to travel and get an outlook on the world and figure out what he/she really want to accomplish in life. Me for example I waited 4 years to attend college and it’s been a struggle because I haven’t been in high school since the year 2009 and I’m a little rusty on my academics but it made me mature. Taking this “Big” gap year helped me find myself and what I really wanted to become in life.

Gap years help young adults understand themselves, their relationships, and the world around them, which deepens capacities and perspectives crucial for effective citizenship. They help students become better thinkers and scholars, filled with passion, purpose, and perspective.
More and more U.S. high school graduates are following the British trend of taking a “gap year” between high school and college because of its many practical benefits. Becoming more focused on a goal, becoming more mature, and better job prospects after graduation are just a few of the great reasons to take a year off. Individuals who take a gap year have an opportunity to travel to a foreign country, get a job where they can earn job experience, money to help get them through school, or volunteer both at home and/or abroad. Not only can a gap year be taken between high school and college, but also between college and a student’s first professional job.

How do people learn from gap years?

One principal lesson is clear: We often develop most when our understandings of ourselves and the world around us are challenged -- when we engage with people and ideas that are different.

Despite this insight, we often prioritize comfort and self-segregate into groups of sameness.
The Gap year, taking a year off from college to work, travel or volunteer, has been growing in popularity in recent years in the US. This practice began in Britain in the 1960’s, and has spread to other parts of the world. Deciding to take Gap year after graduating high school, during or after college is a realistic alternative for students who are unsure of their true aspirations for the future. Having this time is a worthwhile and sometimes life-changing alternative, when the student feels bored or burnt out and looking for a break from the demands of school and learning. During this Gap year, students can engage in: advanced academic courses, language studies, learning a trade, volunteer, travel and work, internships, sports and more. All these options are for the purpose of improving themselves in knowledge, maturity, decision making, leadership, independence, and self-sufficiency. For most students, gap experiences have an impact on their choice of academic major and career, either setting them on a different path than before or confirming their direction. Consequently, a Gap Year offers a student the prospect of exploring a multitude of options to grow from, and afterwards will undoubtedly lead to clearer goals for their future.

We tend to surround ourselves with people who think, talk, and look similar to us.

Taking a gap year speeds our development by upsetting these patterns. Trying to occupy another's way of life in a different culture -- living with a new family, speaking the language, integrating into a community, perhaps working with local youth, for instance -- these are valuable experiences that help young people understand themselves, develop empathy and virtue, and expand their capacity to see the world from others' perspectives.

The benefits of taking a year off are plentiful. On a personal level, students who travel away from home develop their independence and self-confidence. On a cultural level, they learn about viewpoints, traditions and perspectives different from their own. Professionally, students get a taste of diverse workplaces, which might inspire a possible career interest. Intellectually, they examine their own beliefs and ideas in relation to those of others in a new environment. All these advantages combine to make a strong case for taking the one-year break.

Traditionally, U.S. higher education has championed the idea of liberal arts as a way of getting students to engage with difference, to expand their worldview beyond their known universe by (in the words of a Harvard research committee on education) “questioning assumptions, by inducing self-reflection... by encounters with radically different historical moments and cultural formations.”

However, formal classroom education alone cannot accomplish this aim.

The classroom is limited in its ability to engage students with difference and contribute to their development as able citizens.
Out of all of the high school graduates in the country, there are 31.4% of high school graduates that do not attend college. Students who do not attend college directly out of high school will struggle to learn the college material when they finally do attend. The student would be left behind and would have to refresh his or her mind on the college material. Not knowing the college material would be a problem because there would be no one to reteach these students. Being behind in learning material will also delay the student from getting their degree on time.

We also need new experiences that inspire critical self-reflection to cultivate the right moral feelings and dispositions.

What’s important here is the productive dissonance that these long-term, immersive gap year experiences provide.

The choice of a future career is, perhaps, among the most important decision an individual makes throughout their life. Even though a profession may change with the flow of time, making the first step on this path is an essential and responsible act. And despite the fact a particular college or university, where former school students enter after graduating from high school, will not necessarily design and determine their future, for many it is true. Assuming a student is left to decide what they want to become on their own terms, and that nobody should interfere in his or her decision-making process, a necessity to select a college—which equals making a fateful decision—requires deep analysis and contemplation. Therefore, taking a so-called gap year after graduating from high school is a reasonable alternative for those students who are not yet sure about their goals, dreams, and expectations for the future.

It's unlikely that a young person staying in America -- or even traveling overseas for a short time -- would have assumptions about herself and the world around her challenged with the same intensity, frequency, and breadth as in a gap year in a developing community.
In some countries, young people are encouraged to work or travel for a year between finishing high school and starting university studies. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages for young people who decide to do this.

It's interesting that spending time in developing communities can help young people appreciate ways of living that we need more of -- such as a more active and intimate sense of community. Going overseas also helps to cultivate a type of independence and self-confidence that staying close to home in a familiar environment probably does not.

Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Being an up and coming high school graduate, there are many decisions to make. There are decisions on which colleges to choose from and also what classed to enlist in. Most of all, there is the ultimate decision on whether or not to attend college altogether. Although it is always easier to take the traditional route and enroll directly out of high school, there is also a troubling decision to wait a year before attending college.

Furthermore, taking the traditional kind of gap year after high school helps students to take full advantage of their time in college. One telling observation is that many students who take gap years end up changing their intended major after returning.

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During college, their gap year experiences enrich their courses, strengthen co-curricular endeavors, and animate undergraduate research and creative projects.

To be clear: Though these gap year students are working in partnership with a community organization and aim to make some positive impact, the students typically, at least in the short term, gain more than they are able to give. But this empowers them to bring new perspectives to bear in other personal, professional, and civic efforts.

More and more colleges value the non-school details of students’ lives—the stories and idiosyncrasies that show who you really are. So make sure to include your unique stories and perspectives in your transfer application.

Gap years, borrowing a line from the Rhodes Scholarship Trust, can help create leaders for the world’s future.

Despite the benefits of these kinds of gap year experiences, too few Americans take gap years and too few colleges encourage them.

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The treadmill from high school to college makes it hard for students to see alternative paths. But that is changing. More people and organizations are beginning to see gap years for the formative experiences they can be, given with the proper training, support, and community work.
In conclusion, whether to take a year-long break or not is an individual decision. Each young person should consider his or her motivations carefully and decide on what’s most desirable. Time is a precious resource and people of all ages, including young people, should treat it with respect.

In fact, all the Ivy League universities now endorse gap years for interested students. And they’re right to do so.

Many parents and students are nervous about the idea of spending an extended period in a developing country.

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But these experiences, especially through structured gap year programs like Global Citizen Year, are generally very safe and supported. Are there some risks? Of course, there are risks with any travel or change -- but the risks are worth taking.
Nevertheless, there are also dangers involved in taking such a long break. Academically, the main drawback is that students can get sidetracked from their studies. A year is a long time and students could lose the good study habits and sense of discipline they had when they were in a formal academic structure. If they begin working, they could also be deluded into thinking that they’re making a lot of money. They could lose the benefit of college or university education and the chance to earn a higher income all their lives.

The investment in taking a gap year will pay dividends throughout one’s college career and beyond as one’s life and society is enriched.

However, one central challenge that remains is how to finance gap years for students from lower-income families.

Therefore taking a gap year can be good for a person as well as bad. One should think about the pros and cons on taking a gap year. You can find a job to have finances for college it all falls on you. Education is the key to success without education you won’t have a career, without a career you won’t have a good paying job. If you’re not prepared to enter the college life then take the year off but make sure you begin that following year, Motivation is the key to keep you wanting to go forward.

This is also beginning to change. The University of North Carolina and Princeton University, for instance, have both begun to subsidize gap years for incoming students. Other organizations, such as Omprakash, now offer low-cost volunteer placements as well as scholarships to those with need. And with the help of crowdfunding sites, students are able to fund-raise for these experiences with greater ease.
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Despite these efforts, if gap years are to really expand, we’ll need more institutions or governments to offset the costs.

Higher education is society’s last mass effort to really shape the character and trajectories of our young people.

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Let’s help them take more advantage of the precious time in college by taking a gap year before.

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