How to Advise a Gapper

As the concept of pre-university Gap Years takes off across the world, educators and counselors are being called upon to help potential Gap Year students (otherwise known as “Gappers”) to plan their journey. While this may at first seem like an overwhelming task, there is a wealth of resources available to anyone preparing to take a Gap Year. To successfully mentor a Gap Year student, be aware of your resources and take the time to acquire a knowledge of the following points:


What is a Gap Year?

"Definition: A semester or year "on", typically taken between high school and college, in order to deepen one's personal, professional, and practical awareness."

Gap Years originally started in the United Kingdom in the 1970's as a way to fill the 7 or 8 month gap between final exams and the beginning of university. The intention in the UK for that time was to contribute to the development of the student usually through an extended international experience.

Gap Years came to the United States in the early 1980's through the work of Cornelius H. Bull, founder of Interim Programs. Since their transition to the United States, Gap Years have taken on a life of their own - now embodying every manner of program and opportunity imaginable, both domestically and internationally, all with the shared purpose of increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers.

While the American Gap Association is dedicated to increasing the number of Gap Year students, we understand that Gap Years may not be right for every student in every situation, and thus stand behind the most cardinal of advising principles in Gap Years: the student must make the choice - and thus take the ownership for - embarking on their Gap Year. As Holly Bull from Interim Program has said, "this is perhaps the most important ingredient in a successful Gap Year."


Who Makes a Good Gap Year Candidate?

In most cases, a Gap Year candidate fits into a few specific categories. Some are tired of running the same academic tracks and may be feeling 'burnt out.' In this common case, students tend to be fairly high achieving but seek time to revitalize and pursue passions that may lay off-the-beaten-track rather than within four walls. In other cases, an ideal candidate is one who hasn't decided on a specific career or academic major to pursue. While all students fear the ever-increasing average of $39,800 in annual tuition costs [http://nces.ed.gov], these Gap Year students are of the belief that they don't want to pay heaps of money for an educational path without greater clarity of purpose. Taking a Gap Year inevitably clarifies academic and future career goals with an experiential, pragmatic approach that for most students is among their first exposure to experiential learning. Still other students haven't found great success in academic learning environments - having underexplored their own intelligence or having been stymied by a learning difference - these students typically are able to find great success in an experiential environment. Finally, some students will consider a Gap Year simply because they either didn't get into the university they were hoping for, or because they were granted a spring acceptance and now have a semester of time to do something productive with.

It is important to note that some students may feel that a Gap Year is not available to them due to personal financial restrictions. In reality, there are many resources available for minority or underprivileged students. Encourage your student to explore their options and refer them to our student’s guide to Gap Year financial aid.

In every case, a student taking a Gap Year is one who will require support as they necessarily break barriers set by peers and possibly parents to some degree, and hopefully step outside their own comfort zones.

Takeaways:

  • Most students are acceptable Gap Year candidates. A Gap Year stands to benefit anyone who takes one ... although they might not be right for everyone
  • The majority of Gap Year students require some level of support, but it varies from student to student what levels of support they need
  • Resources (financial and informative) are available to provide a Gap Year to every student

Read more about best practices in advising Gap Year students here.

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