Taking a GAP year!

Initially, the gap year concept was foreign to me. I am naturally an independent and adventurous person, which is how I ended up at boarding school in the first place. Nonetheless, I felt intimidated by the realness of the opportunity to “gap it.” Not go to college right away? What? No one does that.

After four straight years devoted to critical essays, history research papers and lab reports, I was exhausted. I yearned for time to myself; time to catch my breath, experience something fresh and put my academics into perspective. Yes, I was eager to attend college and begin the next chapter of my life; but the idea of diving into four more years of academics made me feel restless and resistant. I hankered for a new experience. I itched for something other than studying myself to sleep every night. I wanted to be challenged outside the classroom for once. Nonetheless, by pursuing the unconventional option of a gap year, my primary intention was not to postpone university or the “real world,” but instead to reenergize my mind in order to enhance my college performance.

So now that I’m into the first month of “gapping it,” I have quickly come to realize that I did not postpone the real world for a year; I’m actually experiencing the real world. I’m traveling the world, seeing it with open and, I admit, innocent eyes, exploring new cultures and meeting new people. I know some people do what I’ve chosen after they’ve completed college, and some do so at later points in their lives. Most people never have the chance or the means, and I know and appreciate that my journey is a lifetime opportunity that will help me be a more informed and well-rounded individual (as well as student) and an even stronger contributor when I do get back to my academic studies.

First stop is Italy. I’m interning for a textile company where I’m learning the ins and outs of a family-run business in Florence. At the same time, I’m taking intensive Italian language classes, living with a family, and exploring the Italian culture and people. Of course as an avid pasta lover I can’t complain about the meals! I’ll be here through the end of 2011. While I’m enjoying every moment, I’m busily planning next semester. (I still think of time in school terminology!) A month each in India, South Africa and China! So much more to see and do, and even in one year, I know I’m just scratching the surface on all there is to discover in this enormous world of ours.

I am appreciative of and grateful for this opportunity. Trust that no second of the day is wasted. When I enter the halls of Bucknell University in September 2012, Nicole Meyers will have evolved into a more globally knowledgeable person, and also a more thankfully appreciative person for all I will have learned.

written by Nicole Meyers, in Florence Italy

posted by Joyce Reed, College Goals

Promises and Pitfalls of a Gap Year

Most high school seniors pursuing a college education are now filling in roommate forms, sending off final transcripts to chosen institutions, and such.  But many others have chosen a different path that will lead not to college after the summer, but to a year of travel or work or service.  Taking a gap year between high school and university is long a common practice in Europe, but more American students are discovering it as well.

Students will take a gap year for many reasons.  Some are keen to break away from formal schooling and see more of the “real” world before entering the safe confines of college.  They want to see the world, get a better perspective on things to study in college, learn a new language.  From parents’ perspectives, a gap year may give their child chance to grow in emotional maturity and self-sufficiency, to work and save money for college, or simply gain a bit of seasoning.

These are all very good reasons for a gap year.  I want to focus on one group in particular, however – students who had an unsuccessful college application season and want to redo it, and those who did not apply at all but hope that an interesting gap year will strengthen their future applications.  A gap year can indeed improve a student’s college application in two ways.  Firstly, by virtue of working or traveling or doing community work, a young person may grow so much in maturity and focus that it will inevitably show to good effect, regardless of how they spend the year.  Secondly, an interesting year may make an application stand out from the norm, suggest the student has something out of the ordinary to offer, or even support a student’s interest in pursuing a particular course of study.

Whether a gap year will actually deliver on this promise will depend on what a student does and says about it.  Not all gap experiences are equal – it is after all meant to be a year of learning by different means.  Admission officers will ask themselves what the student has learnt from taking the time, and if the answer is ”not much,” they will decide accordingly.  Pursuing in desultory fashion a couple of week long activities that neither engage nor require commitment from you – mall-crawling in Long Island, lounging in LA, or sunning yourself in St. Barts – none will seem very interesting to educators (unless, of course, you have something interesting to say about it!).  On the other had, traveling to places that stretch your sense of the world and doing service work that challenges your sense of self, working to save money for college or to help your family survive, learning a new language, interning with a local scientist or teaching children, all would lead a reader to recognize your social commitment and your intellectual energy.

A final point involves timing, whether to apply to college before taking a gap year, or during that time.  The answer depends on your circumstances and prospective colleges.  Most, though not all, institutions allow admitted students to defer entrance for a year.  During your senior year, ask colleges whether they are open to such deferments and how their process works.  Applying to college during your senior year means that you still have easy access to teachers and the resources of your college guidance office.  Applying during your gap year allows you to add the weight of your new experiences to the application, though remember that you will be applying only a few short months into that year.

Many of the great things a gap year can do for students, can also be gained from studying abroad later or from teaching and traveling after graduation.  A growing number of students do not want to wait before embarking on such an adventure though, and they may have very good reasons for it.  But if improving your college application is one of those reasons, then keep in mind that not all adventures are equal in the minds of admission officers!