Gap Year answers; responses to questions for a high school thesis

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-- 1. How would you say that taking a gap year increases student's motivation and performance at college?

In large part the answer to this question can be hedged under the guise of “ownership” and “relevance.”  Throughout the majority of students educational careers, they historically and most likely have considered attending College because it’s the next step.  However, rarely do students pause to consider what they personally want out of college aside from the conferral of a degree.  Students who take a Gap Year have the opportunity to literally explore the world at large and begin to question what they want for themselves: it’s no secret that when a selfish agenda overlaps with an altruistic one is when the best things happen for the greatest good.  This means experimenting with careers, cultures, finances, and perhaps most importantly, the their own accountability to their own actions; truly reaping what they sow.   So, when a student takes a Gap Year they have the opportunity to see themselves from another perspective and identify their own needs and desires – thus giving them ‘buy-in’ for their collegiate experience.

The other important element here is relevance.  In the vast majority of college students’ experiences of academia they are exposed almost exclusively to the theories and abstractions of information however, absent the relationship to it.  The etymology of the word “school” literally means ‘time held for yourself’ as in to pursue learning important life-insights.  The etymology of “education” means to lead out of ignorance.  New research is beginning to show that the traditional didactic form of pedagogy doesn’t work as well as we thought it did.  Instead, a more Socratic, thought & debate pedagogy, seems to be proving more and more relevant.  [http://www.npr.org/2012/01/01/144550920/physicists-seek-to-lose-the-lecture-as-teaching-tool]

Additionally, with more data at every student’s fingertips these days than ever before (with the internet), imparting information to students is proving less and less relevant and students feel it.  Education that is grounded in reality – where students experience the information in a real and personal way – seems to be the best way to impart knowledge.  Unsurprisingly, relevance, and thus knowledge of a thing, means the information stays better remembered and becomes conceptual (as in useful for reasoning) rather than factual (and thus limited to the information).  One promotes a critical thinker, the other a passive learner.

The final element is research that’s being done into the notion of ‘grit’ as pioneered by Paul Tough [How Children Succeed] and others in their field.  The idea is that Motivation, Grit, Optimism, Conscientiousness, etc., … these are recently able to be quantified and ultimately are showing a better correlation to college success than GPA.  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaeFnxSfSC4]

-- 2.How does taking a gap year help to develop student's maturity and independence?

The idea here is that students who never take the time for self-inquiry (which is often best accomplished by juxtaposing one’s Self against that of a diverse population), never have the opportunity to truly identify what makes them who they are.  Students who take a Gap Year are far more likely to have inquired about their own definitions of success, rather than taking as ‘given’ those that are imparted by their culture, schools, friends, media, etc.  What do you actually want out of life?  For some people, having seen great poverty but also great happiness and family, they desire less the financial and material and more the filial and relationships.  For others, they really do truly want a new BMW and that does indeed make them happy.  But without having ever inquired about your own personal reasons, they become less significant.  Students having taken a Gap Year are usually subsequently exposed to myriad different ways to ‘do this thing called life’, which includes seeing the different ways that people measure success.

Students who take a Gap Year are also exposed to their own consequences.  In a typical American life, we move from “cradle, to college, to cubicle, to cemetery” [http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/24/the-gap-year-breaking-up-the-cradle-to-college-to-cubicle-to-cemetery-cycle/].  Basically, we move from one institution to another to another – often giving up the consequences of our actions to some larger protective body.  For most Gap Year students, their year turns into a grand experiment wherein they are exposed to real consequences – of course the aim for the Gap Year industry is make sure those consequences are limited to ones that students grow from in a positive fashion – but in my own Gap Year, it meant having to watch my budget; getting sick when I didn’t feed myself well or drink safe water; sleeping in dingy places when I didn’t do sufficient planning; but ultimately learning that I was far more resilient and capable than I’d previously thought.

-- 3. How can taking a gap year add to a student's future employability?

88% of Gap Year graduates report that their experience contributed significantly to their employability.  I see this as a factor of the following:
Self-awareness: when you know your own strengths and weaknesses you’re better able to contribute in substantive ways.  This also comes across during the interview phase
Language: in those Gap Years where students go overseas they inevitably learn more language.  Having additional languages on a resume is an incredible asset to most companies
Workforce: students who have traveled get to see and relate to people from other countries and nationalities.  In this global marketplace, being able to say that you know how to work with a diverse clientele is an asset
Teamwork: students who have had a Gap Year inevitably have to work together with strangers.  This might be through service-learning, partnering with other Gap Year folks, or interning in a strange work force
Networking: students who push out of their comfort zone socially – which is the norm for a Gap Year – expand their network of potential jobs.  This might mean connections for a future employer, or direct possibilities for employment
Outcomes: students who take a structured Gap Year earn better GPAs (and thus a better resume).  They are more engaged in on-campus activities (which translates to more hobbies, and better recommendations letters).
Intrigue: being able to list what you did over a competing job-seeker makes you more interesting to the employer.

-- 4. How does taking a gap year enhance a student's social skills?

Primarily I’d say this is a function of confidence – which is a frustratingly nebulous term.  The confidence is built by pushing comfort zones and discovering newfound strengths and abilities.  But the confidence itself is where the social skills are mainly rooted.  It comes down to confidence of self, but also confidence in knowing how to find the commonalities and relate to those from a diverse background.  Think about it from this perspective; when a student has had the experience of communicating with strangers through the barriers of culture, language, expertise, work, difficulty/challenge, they inevitably feel more assured that they can do so with others.

 

– Authored by Ethan Knight, American Gap Association

Gap Year Standards of Best Practice are HERE … and why you should care

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It’s not a surprise that it’s taken so long to develop the Standards for Gap Years in the US, but after much effort, several drafts, and a lot of collaboration, I’m proud to say that they’re here!  Visit www.americangap.org/standards.php to download a copy!

What’s in the Standards:  AGA’s Gap Year Standards hold five main certifications at this point: “Philosophy & Integrity”, “Partnerships”, “Backcountry / Developing Country”, “Service-Learning”, and “Independent Student Placements”.  Each of these certifications represent what any single organization will be doing when on program, and organizations will submit corroborative materials for each certification.  In most cases the Standards represent common-sense best practices, but their true value is in safety – primarily those issues that are potentially major but due to their infrequency are often overlooked.   The idea is to prevent the major issues through planning!

Why should I care?:
Simply put, Gap Year enrollment has shown consistent growth since the numbers have been tracked.  At this point we’ve been able to take a sample accross the industry and I’m pleased to see the growth of the industry.  However, as this form of pedagogy has grown, so too has the onus to ensure the highest caliber of instruction, and so, the Standards are beyond important!
o 2006-­‐2007 = + 35.3% enrollment
o 2007-­‐2008 = + 39.0%
o 2008-­‐2009 = + 4.2%
o 2009-­‐2010 = + 27.8%
o 2010–2011 no data
o 2011–2012 = + 34.9%
o 2012–2013 (March to March) = + 58.2%

How they’ve changed: The Standards have gone through many evolutions, but the big ones include:
* removal of the “Environmental Sustainability” section.  While this is a very important standard, it represents only one of many possible (such as women’s issues, etc.), and thus a larger plan is required to integrate these sub-certifications into the overall fold
* revised Gap Year pedagogy section that focuses more on outcomes
* revised Service-Learning section
* increased transparency about financial aid availability
* greater clarification about Philosophy & Integrity Indicators: policies about relationships, forms, incident reporting, student orientation, student re-entry process, hiring standards, and staff training.
* increased compatibility for online submission (coming in April!)

Who’s reviewed them: Thankfully, as these Standards have evolved, I’ve been lucky enough to incorporate some great feedback from peers in the industry.  The following people deserve a very special thanks for their comments in this documents evolution.  Holly Bull (Interim Programs), Robin Pendoley (Thinking Beyond Borders), Drew Edwards (Carpe Diem Education), Erin Barnhart (Effective Altruism and IPSL), Carlton Rounds (Volunteer Positive and formerly Cross Cultural Solutions), and Karl Haigler (Author of The Gap Year Advantage).  Without these tremendous people the Standards would not represent such a high caliber.

 

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