Would You Take a Gap Year?

A break between high school and college — known a a “gap year” — can enhance a student’s education, experts say.

And take it from Danny Klain, who took a gap year between high school and college, it can help a student to mature.

“You don’t need to necessarily travel the world and spend tons of money to do something to educate yourself, to grow as a person,” said Klain, who is a freshman at Claremont McKenna College in California this fall.

Klain said that living alone and the challenges of adulthood taught him to grow and mature “very rapidly.”

He learned to “accept small victories, because you will not always succeed,” he said. “You have to take what you can and also grow from it because a lot of things aren’t going to go your way, and that’s OK.”

He spent part of his gap year tutoring high school students in algebra in San Antonio, Texas, as part of AmeriCorps. He also worked for the non-profit group Generation Progress, where he focused on higher education advocacy through its “No Debt Campaign.”

The discussion about “gap year” was sparked recently by Malia Obama, the elder daughter of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. While she graduated high school in 2016, she’ll delay her freshman year at Harvard College until fall 2017. Both her parents graduated from Harvard.

Some social media users described the first daughter’s decision as a smart one, with others saying the time off can be influenced by a family’s social and economic status.

“I think the campaign for gap years going forward will probably be to dispel the misconceptions about it,” said Klain.

Still gaining momentum in US

American students have been slow to embrace gap year.

Joe O’Shea, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement at Florida State University (FSU), said there has not been a big push from major institutions and government to subsidize this educational opportunity.

“It’s true that gap years tend to be the domain or at least have been of the middle class and above. I do think that it is an important problem and something we need to work on,” he said.

FSU just announced $50,000 to support the gap year experience, he said.

The university is “proud to be one of the few universities in the country (and the second public university) to offer financial assistance to students taking a gap year,” according to its website. “Students applying for a gap year deferment will automatically be considered for a scholarship of up to $5,000 to support their gap year.”

Organizations like Carpe Diem Education in Portland, Oregon, also offer financial aid, such as scholarships and grants for its educational programs. Students must be enrolled at an accredited institution to qualify.

Schools should handle alone, some say

Some gap-year advocates say institutions around the nation should support delayed enrollment.

“I don’t know if we necessarily need government to step into this. But, I definitely think having university and Ivy League schools come out to the scene and essentially validate the gap year is definitely going to help in the coming years,” said Charlie Taibi, COO at San Francisco-based Uncollege.org.

Experts and students, who recently discussed the topic on HashtagVOA, said the break between high school and college can be a powerful part of the educational experience and does not have to be just for rich families.

Students can apply for fellowships through Uncollege that are divided into three phases: Study abroad, a stint in San Francisco to help them learn soft skills like writing professional emails and networking, and an internship.

Taibi said the programs are structured to support students and help them direct their own learning.

Bridging a disconnect

Some students take a more unconventional path toward their gap year.

Rainesford Alexandra is a writer and student at the New School in New York City.  Alexandra completed one semester of college, then took a year off before re-enrolling in classes.  Alexandra said she felt a disconnect between classroom lessons and life lessons.

“During my gap year I got a lot of writing published,” Alexandra said. “I published my first official article with the Huffington Post, which led to some incredible opportunities,” including becoming director of media for a non-profit. “I gave a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk and co-founded a community yoga studio.”

And there was rejection, too, another life lesson. Alexandra said she learned how to cope with rejection after pitching stories to different organizations.

“You do learn how to handle rejection in a way that in a traditional collegiate system, you simply don’t until after you graduated… Being able to cope with that and find a strategy is important,” she said.

This story first featured on VOA News.

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