More Students Are Taking a Gap Year Before College – And It Might Be a Good Idea
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on July 27, 2015 at 11:21 am
With one in three college freshmen dropping out of school, both parents and colleges are looking for ways to bring up the retention rate. One way to do that is through a gap year.
Finding yourself is a rite of passage for most high school graduates, but using college to do it is a costly way to go about it. With the freshmen dropout rate standing at one in three students and the cost of a year at private college surpassing $30,000, parents, students and schools around the country are starting to embrace what has been a tradition in the U.K., Australia and other countries for decades: the gap year.
Typically taken between high school and college, students take six months to a year off to pursue other avenues of growth. For some, that can mean taking classes at a community college, while for others it could mean traveling to Europe to learn a new language. There are also a number of structured programs designed to give students real-life experience in specific fields or industries as well as volunteer work around the globe.
“The gap year is the time that students anywhere from 17 to 22 set aside to do something outside the traditional classroom,” says Kathy Cheng, director of admission and marketing at Dynamy, a Worcester, Mass.-based company that creates gap year internships for students. “They are learning how to fit in and how to grow a little more.”
While a gap year may seem like an excuse to kick back before starting college, it’s actually gaining in popularity in the U.S. According to the American Gap Association, a Portland, Oregon-based trade group, attendance at gap year fairs in the U.S. has increased 294% since 2010. Last year, members and provisional members of the American Gap Association gave away about $2.8 million in scholarships and needs-based grants.
Universities around the country urge students to consider a gap year
It’s not only industry that supports the idea of students taking a year off before starting school. Higher education institutions around the country, including Harvard University and Princeton University, are big supporters, arguing that taking a year off once you are enrolled in a school can prevent the stress and burnout that often leads to undesirable behaviors like binge drinking and drug use.
Proponents of the gap year contend that time off will also help high school graduates figure out what type of career they want to pursue, as well as give them a little more maturity, so that when they do entercollege, they are ready to start learning. Far too many students treat freshmen year at college as party time or a year to figure out what they want to pursue, not realizing the costs associated with their journey. After all, one extra year at a private school could mean an extra $10,000 to $30,000 – not including wages lost from a year spent out of the workforce. “Sometimes students might need more basic life skills, time management skills and study skills,” says Tamara Knapp-Grosz, president of the American College Counseling Association. “Parents have to ask themselves – do they have the life skills in place to be successful as a college freshman?”
A gap year can help you save on tuition
Giving students the tools to they need to flourish in college is the goal of most parents, but being able to save along the way is an added benefit of a gap year. While structured programs can cost $10,000 to $20,000 in some cases, according to U.S. News & World Report, many don’t – and either way, a gap year is going to be cheaper than a year at many schools. Not to mention that with some gap year programs, students earn college credits and/or get real world experience that can be added to their resume. Having a year to pursue different avenues can also help a student decide what he or she wants to do, which means they may be less inclined to pick a major, only to switch it in a semester or two – or worse, return to school years after they graduate.
Critics of the gap year argue that it will be hard for students to transition back into a formal academic setting after a year off. But research conducted by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, co-authors of The Gap Year Advantage, shows that 90% of students who take a gap year actually earn their college degree.
“Parents have this fear that if the student takes off time, he or she is not going to go back. But the research shows 90% of students go right back to college following the year off,” says Knapp-Grosz. “With 50% of freshmen dropping out or changing schools, the gap year may prevent some of that as well.”