Why Taking a Gap Year Matters

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soloWhy does taking a Gap Year Matter?
The benefits of taking a Gap Year are many and blend together across multiple areas. Taking a structured Gap Year invariably serves to develop the individual into a more focused student with a better sense of purpose and engagement in the world.

From Joe O’Shea’s book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs:
“Some studies have looked at the academic performance of gap year students while in college. In Australia and the United Kingdom, economic researchers found that high school students who deferred their admission to college to take a Gap Year went to college (after their Gap Year) at the same rate as those who accepted an offer and intended to go straight there (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012). They also found that taking a Gap Year had a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012).”

Gap Year Interest and Enrollment Trends continue to grow. We don’t know exactly how many US students take a Gap Year each year, but amongst our sources we are able to say that interest and enrollment is growing substantively.

The following chart details what our respondents cited as their most significant influences when deciding to take a Gap Year.

2a Gap Year Influences

Academic Future

Taking a Gap Year matters because it has a direct impact on a person’s academic decision making and future performance. 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 a Gap Year or confirming their direction (60% said the experience either “set me on my current career path/academic major” or “confirmed my choice of career/academic major”).

Gap Year students are perceived to be ‘more mature, more self-reliant and independent’ than non-Gap Year students. That maturity and self reliance are exactly the two things that most facilitate academic success at the university level. Some young people just need that extra year in the world to grow up a little bit more and build their skill set.

Taking a 1-year break between high school and university allows ‘motivation for and interest in study to be renewed. Let’s face it: Kids are tired by the time they graduate. When all a person has ever known is the four walls of a classroom and life has been lived between bells for 12 years, it’s understandable that they’d be ready for a break! In that year young people find the space to get excited about the next phase of education.

In the United Kingdom and in the United States, students who have taken a Gap Year are more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college, and this effect was seen even for Gap Year students with lower academic achievement in high school.

Employability & Job Satisfaction

Taking a Gap Year matters because employability and job satisfaction matter. They matter a lot. According to the studies, 88 percent of Gap Year graduates report that their Gap Year had significantly added to their employability and students who have taken a Gap Year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs. Why is that? Haigler found that this was related to a less-selfish approach to working with people and careers.

What this means is that conventional wisdom is dead wrong. Conventional thinking says that it’s best to go straight into a university setting right from high school. To delay might mean that a student doesn’t focus and fails to return. It says that delaying entrance to the workforce, or professional pool will set a young person behind his peers in terms of earning power and job eligibility.

The research is telling us otherwise. Taking a Gap Year can be a great way to focus on what’s next in a young person’s education and to clarify her direction. Taking a Gap Year is a resume builder and gives a person a leg up in a very competitive market. Having taken the time to really think about which profession to enter, a Gap Year contributes to the longer term career happiness of the student.

That’s why taking a Gap Year matters.

Sources:

  • (Crawford and Cribb 2012, Clagett 2013)
  • [Birch, “The Characteristics of Gap-Year Students and Their Tertiary Academic Outcomes”, Australia, 2007]
  • [Milkround graduate recruitment Gap Year survey, http://www.milkroundonline.com]
  • [Karl Haigler & Rae Nelson, The Gap Year Advantage, independent study of 280 Gap Year students between 1997 – 2006]

Photo Credit: Micah Hallahan

Finding Money For Your Gap Year

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MoneyUnfortunately, most students don’t wake up with extra thousands of dollars lying around to spend on purchasing whatever they want. Unless you planted a coin as a kid that later grew into a money tree, you’ll probably need to plan in advance for footing your gap year bill.

Traveling CAN cost you a pretty penny. Many of the world’s most expensive cities lie outside of the United States, yet remain popular gap year destinations among students. Does this mean that there are a bunch of cold, hungry, and broke international students fluttering about the cities of the world? Heck no! Don’t deflate your dreams of travel or cancel your flights juuuust yet. While it can be expensive to take a gap year, there is more to your life abroad than the pleasures and indulgences of touristing. If you are budget savvy and willing to make a few sacrifices every now and then (think: 2 scoops of ice cream instead of 12), your overall expenses will be more than manageable.

While the cost can be a nasty little drawback, don’t feel defeated and default to the college path juuuust yet. Even if your trip abroad will be your most expensive purchase to date, preparing for it should not feel daunting or troubling. With proper planning and with time on your side, you will be able to finance your gap year no sweat (okay, with a reasonable amount of sweat).

Step #1: Estimate

Before you can start saving for your gap year, you probably want to know a ballpark figure of what your end savings goal is. The overall cost will vary dependent on a number of different factors, including destination, whether or not you’ll be working, the overall cost of your program provider, and the relative cost of getting there, around, and back.

Students should begin discussing their gap year goals with their academic advisors, potentially their university advisor, and their parents early on. Even if you have yet to decide exactly where you want to go or what you want to do, these conversations can start giving you an estimation of potential out-of-pocket expenses.

Consider Your Fixed Travel Costs

As you are financially planning for your gap year, be sure to factor in the actual costs of traveling. Your flight from your home country abroad may end up costing you hundreds of dollars. You may need to apply for a visa, or even a passport if you are new the game of travel (WELCOME!). Will you be traveling overland between countries, or staying put for the entire year? While these fees are often paid up front and don’t detract from your day-to-day cost of living, they still detract from your bank account and can be a hefty start-up cost.

Budget For Your Personal Spending Habits

If you’re the kind of person who always needs seconds and thirds, or requires fine dining each weekend, you might need to buffer your budget to plan for your flagrant spending habits. Your gap year might be a good opportunity for practicing minimalism and simple living; after all, you’ll want to stretch your saved dollars as far as possible.

Honestly critique those spending habits. I would bet that if you were to realistically consider the amount of money you spend regularly back home (let’s not discount the frequent Starbucks fixes or what you “pay-at-the-pump”) the cost of living abroad, despite including these extraneous fees, may turn out to be very comparable to (or cheaper than!) your present lifestyle. We know that saving money is no easy feat, and sometimes requires a bit of sacrifice. You might really want to go to that concert with your friends, or think you need the latest iPhone. But delayed gratification IS real and you won’t regret the compromises you made once you’re having a blast abroad.

Aim to Save a Little Extra

Consider the numbers you’ve calculated as an under-estimation (even if, in fact, they are an over-estimation!). Why? Because your gap year might be more expensive than you expect, and nobody wants to travel with financial worry. Save as much money as possible before you take your gap year; in this way, you will be able to relax and truly invest in your new life.

Step #2: Start Saving & Fundraising

Financially planning for a gap year takes work, creativity, and persistence. While you should definitely consider getting a job and putting your savings towards your adventures, you do not need to squeeze a 40 hour work week on top of your school life to make it work. There are plenty of other avenues for raising money. Read on for some tips to save money for your gap year:

Make a Budget & Stick With It

Financial discipline is tough. It takes conscious, daily effort and forces you to make good decisions a habit. But stick it out – it WILL get easier. Set small savings goals for yourself and celebrate those successes. Use apps or online tools to keep track of your expenditures and stay on target.

Leverage Crowd Funding

Make a FundMyTravel campaign or other online fundraising platform. Leverage the power of the internet to get family, friends, and extended networks involved in donating money for your gap year. This is an especially fruitful effort if your gap year will be dedicated to a specific project or cause that you care about.

Work With What You Have

Identify other sources of financial gain, like grandparents. Think outside the box when it comes to raising money. You can get community organizations involved or host your own bake sale/fundraising event. You can ask your religious meeting place to make a donation or offering to put towards your goals. Parents, grandparents, those aunts and uncles you only see but once a year. If you are passionate about your trip, they’ll be able to feel it and will likely support you in your endeavours
Ask for money for birthday/holiday gifts. Use every opportunity you can to accomplish your savings goals.

Just remember: Every. Penny. Counts.

Step #3: Apply For Gap Year Scholarships

Scholarships aren’t JUST for those going to school. Many travel scholarships exist to help youth travelers get out and see the world – to learn not only in the classroom, but experientially, too. Check out these great scholarships for gap years:

Don’t get discouraged if you do not hear from the scholarship organizations as quickly as you’d like. Just keep on trucking: apply for as many scholarships as you can, and look for alternative sources for scholarships, too. Your town or city council, the university you are deferring from, your high school – ask around and keep applying for any opportunity that pops up!

Step #4: Plan to be Budget Savvy While Abroad

Depending on your financial background, the costs outlined above may bring you a sigh of relief or might render you unconscious on the floor. No matter your current health status, here are a few tips to help you stay within budget while on your gap year:

Not to sound like a broken record, but live, study, volunteer, or work outside of major cities. You can still visit the city hubbub on the weekends to experience all that is cosmopolitan and wonderful, but to lessen your overall costs, steer clear of metropolises.

Consider Travel Convenience

If you are interested in exploring many countries on your gap year, factor in the ease of travel. For instance, while I had initially planned on spending a semester of my college life drinking afternoon tea and wearing big hats at horse races in England, after further consideration, I chose instead a program in Germany. It’s central location allowed for better overland travel via the EuroRail; I thought myself a stroke of thrifty genius.

Project the Currency Exchange

There are places in the world where the American dollar can make you feel like a king. There are also places in the world where you look at your sandwich and think, “Wait, did I just drop $15 on this?” When choosing a study abroad program, factor in the costs of local expenses. When the U.S. dollar is stronger, the cost of living will be cheaper, and vice versa.

Get a Student Card

Apply for an ISIC card and never forget to flash your student ID. Many international students will receive a discount at major landmarks, museums, transportation centers and more. It never hurts to ask, right?!

Brown Bag It

Commit to packing your lunch and eating in sketchy* looking restaurants. Many international students are pros at the homemade peanut butter sandwich by the time they head home, and show no fear when eating off-the-beaten path. Generally speaking, what you’re looking for is a restaurant with many happy-looking people speaking in the local language, the lack of an English menu, and a fat chef. *Use your best judgment; food poisoning abroad is as bad as it sounds.

The Choice is Yours…

Students should aim to select a program that fits your budget as well as meets their academic and personal goals. Make the most of this opportunity to take a gap year after high school: research, plan, and collect as much background information as possible to ensure your experience is exactly how you want it to be.

Most importantly, cost is not the only factor to consider when choosing where to travel. Keep in mind that while some programs may be cheaper (such as those in Nepal or Indonesia), if you are a hardcore Spanish or Latin American Studies major, it might not make the most sense to study in Asia.

While we steadfastly argue that the benefits of a gap year not only justify but outweigh the impending costs, we do realize that the financial commitment remains an important factor when students are considering their post-graduation options. It is important to look at your gap year as a financial investment, one with dividends that will pay off for years to come. In fact, many students cite their international experiences as the primary line item on their resumes that ended up landing them the job. Cha-ching!

Photo Credit: Martin Vorel

Article contributed by Megan Lee

Attend the AGA National Conference

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The American Gap Association is pleased to announce it’s annual conference, in Boston, Massachusetts, May 1-3 2016.

This year’s conference is focused on bringing together Gap Year Program Providers and Educational Consultants to discuss the value of experiential education and how to expand and standardize the Gap Year experience for North American students.

During three days of interactive sessions and presentations the AGA will work to facilitate connections for attendees and advance the goals of individual participants and organizations through cross-pollination of ideas.

Who Should Attend?

The conference is specifically designed to be of value to high school guidance and career counselors, as well as college, or university admissions and guidance counselors.

Gap Year Program Providers should also plan to attend as the AGA annual conference provides the premiere community and networking opportunities of the year, in addition to professional and standards development.

Conference Schedule

  • May 1:  Two specific tracks will be provided: one for Educational Consultants, the other for Gap Year Program Providers. The goal of this day’s programming is to provide professional development opportunities and safe space to facilitate growth within the industries.
  • May 2: Panel presentations and round table formats will work to build bridges between attendees.
  • May 3: will consist of a Gap-n-Go and Gap Year fair, with social event. The Gap-n-Go consists of a fun “speed dating” type approach to connecting Educational Consultants with Gap Year Program Providers and creating space for individual questions to be answered and relationships to blossom.

Attendance

Last year we had representatives from more than 4 continents that included over 20 Gap Year organizations, University partners (such as Princeton, Elon, UNC, and Tufts), Professional Associations and Government (including IECA, NACAC, the Aspen Institute, State Department, and Department of Education), and several Educational Consultants.

This year we are expecting 100+ attendees to almost double our attendance and your opportunity to learn. We will have separate tracks for Educational Consultants and Gap Year Providers, as well as opportunities for colleges to learn about how they can better integrate a Gap Year into their incoming First Year Experiences.

Associate AGA Member applicants (earning a listing on the AGA website, as well as the AGA’s blessing to do Gap Year placements from pre-accredited programs) will be pleased to know that full attendance at this Gap Year Conference will satisfy most of the Associate Member requirements.

Get Tickets!

Registration for the AGA Annual Conference is now open and applications are being accepted for presentation or session topics.

Photo Credit: Redd Angelo

Why a Gap Year is the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made.

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I took a Gap Year after college (before jumping into the “real world”) and it was, truly, the best decision I’ve made (next to adopting my cat and downloading the Uber app).

Traveling, for me, isn’t just for meeting people and taking cool pictures. It is preventative medicine for closed-mindedness and bigotry, and wholly challenges me to function at my greatest capacity as a heart-centered, human-oriented modern young adult.

Gap year students who choose to pursue higher education after traveling oftentimes become campus leaders and star students. Gap Year students who choose to pursue work or service after traveling oftentimes become intelligent and thoughtful advocates for change. Most Gap Year students return as strong, proactive, and civically engaged community members.

If you are considering taking a Gap Year, the advantages are yours to be written (and will ultimately span a list longer than a cartoon decree). Beyond your unique set of advantages connected to your personal gap year goals, here are some common perks you will enjoy.

Honesty With Yourself & Others

It’s okay if you’re not ready to run off to university (or an apprenticeship, or a manager-track job at a local chain). Maybe you don’t know what to study, maybe you don’t know where to go, maybe you aren’t sure about the price tag. College is a big decision, and not the best fit for every type of student.

Opting out of the norm takes courage; it’s an exercise in self-awareness and being true to yourself (which is easier said than done). It can sometimes mean disappointing your parents, or adding confusing elements to polite dinner conversation when your extended family is in town. It means rejecting the flow that your friends and classmates are likely pursuing.

Choosing to do a Gap Year after high school demonstrates maturity and honesty.

Find Your Path

There is value in system, but that doesn’t mean it is right for you. Have you been spoon-fed your need to go to university someday ever since you passed Algebra? Was it ever presented to you as an option, or was it always an expectation?

College rocks, and it can be an extremely rewarding and valuable experience. That said, if you don’t have a personal interest going to school beyond the fact that you know it’ll make your family (and friends, and grandma, and by extension, society) happy, then that is a pretty clear sign you aren’t meant to follow the norm.

Just because it is a good path for Sam, Sally, and Susie doesn’t mean it is a good path for YOU – don’t fall victim to societal expectations or pressures as you design your future.

Take the Reins

Having the confidence to make decisions that benefit the course of your life directly takes a lot of work. But you’ll be better for it, and each subsequent decision will feel like a major victory (one you can take all of the credit for).

As the cartoonist of Calvin and Hobbes so profoundly put:

­­­“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive… You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

Take the reins of your life in your own hands. Live your own life instead of someone else’s. You will gain independence, self-sufficiency, and clarity towards your purpose as you take time “off” for a Gap Year.

Adventure, Travel, & Foreign Cultures – Oh My!

Life abroad is one giant hairball of fun. Travel is an incredibly powerful tool for reflection; oftentimes, the insights you gather will happen so subtly and smoothly that you won’t even always realize the lessons you learn simply by living in, observing, and working alongside people from another culture.

These tiny pearls of wisdom will be delivered in the most unusual circumstances: brief conversations on your walk to your volunteer project with a local child, or witnessing the interaction between father/son. Maybe you’ll learn from observing westernization in otherwise foreign places, white water rafting the Nile, or feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the earth’s natural beauty. You never know which life lesson will be served up next.

Find Your Tribe

Another oft-overlooked and under-appreciated perk of taking a Gap Year is the community of individuals who will be introduced to and cross paths with over the course of your travels. Not only will you witness a network of people who live their lives differently, you will also find camaraderie with men and women from your own culture who are likewise skeptical of the beaten path.

Having mentors to inspire you to do things differently is a huge advantage for gap year students; creating a community of like-minded individuals a key element to avoid relapsing into a less conscious, unintentional lifestyle.

The Gift of Time

The biggest benefit of taking a gap year is having time “off” to flesh out your identity free of the influence of your typical environs. You will be free of distractions from every day responsibilities, conversations, and expectations to instead get a pretty strong sense of self.

When was the last time you asked yourself what you value? What you believe in? Where these truths come from, and how they will manifest in your life?

Knowing your inner workings can be intimidating, silence can be scary, and self-awareness can seem unattainable. But with the right frame of mind and surroundings to match, you will feel comfortable in your own skin (and with your own brain) (and with your own heart) before no time.

Now that you know your goals…

Chart Your Course… Your Way

Again: just because others have followed a certain way to attain a shared goal doesn’t mean you have to. Create an action plan that allows for accountability with plenty of self-love and patience.

The benefits of a Gap Year often look different for each individual braving the journey; however, one underlying outcome remains: individuals return with more awareness of themselves, others, and communities near and far.

Did you take a Gap Year? What were the advantages for you?

Photo Credit: Chris Lawton

Article contributed by Megan Lee