Why Gap Years matter more than ever…especially now!

By Katherine Stievater, Founder, Gap Year Solutions

Harvard College, Cambridge, MA

“How can I best use the time if travel is not an option”?

“What options will realistically be available with social distancing?”

These questions and many more have been posed to me over the last several months, as the reality of COVID was becoming clear to graduating high schoolers. Students already planning to defer college for a year were worried, but so was a new cohort of would-be gappers: students who really did not want to continue online learning into their first year of college.

Gap Years as a post secondary option have been growing in popularity for several years now. Malia Obama’s decision to defer Harvard for a year in 2016 sparked media interest, but the Gap Year movement had already been gaining momentum. It turns out that after 13 straight years of classroom learning, the increasing amount of stress and social-media fueled anxiety endured by our teens, and (ironically) the rigors of the college application process, an increasing number of students want a break before starting college.

This break – some call it a “Bridge Year” or “Discover Year”, in addition to Gap Year – is an amazing time for our teens to figure out who they are, and be authentic and grow. These students don’t want to define themselves by the college logo on their sweatshirt. They have the courage to step off the traditional path and not just “go right to college because that is what you are supposed to do.” Gappers learn the importance of being an individual, and making their own path in life – what a great lesson! After this intentional period of self-discovery, students who take Gap Years nearly always go on to college where they are highly engaged, perform well, and graduate on time.

But getting back to the questions above – is it necessary to travel in order to gain these valuable life lessons? Absolutely not! In fact a number of my students at Gap Year Solutions either don’t travel at all or fashion their own domestic itinerary – e.g., biking the Pacific Coast Highway, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. Last year one of my students had three local internships in the Boston area. Another moved to New York City to pursue his love of high end sneakers and streetwear.

Certainly both domestic and international travel allows students to get out of their “bubble” and participate in meaningful volunteer work. It also allows students to have some fun along the way, as they get outdoors, see places full of culture and history, and bond with new friends. But travel is not required to have a productive and transformative Gap Year. And human ingenuity being what it is, a number of virtual experiences have launched recently to – among other things – help students explore career options, become social activism leaders, and support overseas social change organizations as remote volunteers.

There is still huge uncertainty about how college life will turn out this fall.  What does “hybrid” mean? How much instruction will be online? If I’m on campus, how much will I see other students and professors? There are also no guarantees. Even schools that seem to have it figured out must continue  to adapt as COVID flares back up and state and local guidance changes. Students may get sent home early.

How many Freshmen want to experience their first year of college this way? Why not wait until colleges have figured out ways to accommodate students in a new normal way? This year is a period of trial and error. By next year, processes and policies will be more established, and we will know way more about COVID-19.

Given the high cost of college, it seems reasonable to consider alternatives. Private universities can cost up to $80,000 a year now – what other purchase at that price do you make without clearly knowing the product that you are buying?

Let’s give these students the ability to take time to discover who they are, and why they are even going to college. Let’s encourage them to consider stepping off the traditional path to experience a year of real world learning while our higher education institutions get their learning models in order.

10 Ways to Stay Engaged During Virtual Learning

By Anna Nickerson, Babson College, Class of ’22

Whether you’re taking summer classes, doing a summer internship online, or even preparing for virtual learning in the fall, one thing is certain – virtual learning can be disengaging! Here we outline 10 strategies to help you stay engaged during virtual learning. While virtual approaches won’t replace a classroom setting, unfortunately many of us have no choice in today’s learning environment – and virtual classes may become a permanent part of higher ed. I’ve personally implemented all of these strategies as I am currently taking online summer classes!

  1. Turn your phone off. This is the easiest and most effective strategy to start paying better attention while online. It is SO easy to get distracted or think you will “multi-task” during class! Turn your phone off, or at the very least put it in “Do Not Disturb” mode. You could place your phone in another room or even give it to a family member while you’re in your class. After class or during breaks, reward yourself with a quick social media break, but don’t get sidetracked!
  2. Create a productive and distraction-free workspace. Whether it’s at your desk, in your kitchen, or your own at-home office, make sure it is somewhere you can work. While we find ourselves working at home, it can be easy to make excuses that result in trying to be productive on the couch or even the bed – bad idea! Make an effort to designate the same space every day to your class.
  3. Sit outside when you can! While maintaining the same space everyday will help with productivity, it’s okay to work outside! One benefit of virtual learning is the ability to take your class with you anywhere. If that interests you, try it for a day.
  4. Invest in a pair of Blue-Light eye glasses. This one is often overlooked, but it can be very useful especially for those of us who are prone to headaches. I personally wear my blue-light glasses whenever I use my computer and I’ve noticed a huge difference in my ability to look at a screen longer.
  5. Stay Hydrated! This one is so important! Make a goal of drinking at least 8 glasses of water every day, especially during your class. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll feel lethargic and disengaged. Keep a water bottle or glass of water by your side at all times.
  6. Exercise and take daily walks when you can. Learning at home can result in some unhealthy habits, like forgetting to walk around and be as active as you may have been during in-person learning. Depending on the nature of your online learning, you’ll have breaks throughout the day. Even if it’s just a 15 minute break, go outside and take a walk around the neighborhood. Make goals throughout the day that will encourage you to stay active. You can also do some desk workouts and yoga stretches throughout the day.
  7. Take care of your mind. While we’re on the topic of health, don’t forget to take care of your mental health. Mind + Body is so important! Online learning can be exhausting, especially when it feels like you can’t escape it! Take time for yourself by meditating, journaling, or even watching a funny show at the end of the day.
  8. Reach out to your classmates and professor. When you’re in an online class, it can be easy to feel isolated and inherently disengaged. Use this feeling as an opportunity to connect with your professor, teaching assistants, and especially your fellow classmates. You can shoot them a quick email, text, or even private message on Zoom/Skype/etc. Many professors still hold office hours, albeit online, so take advantage!
  9. Participate in class! Turn your video on. It can be so easy to turn your camera off and pretend you’re not even there in class. This is one of the biggest issues with online learning. Hold yourself accountable by both turning your video on and actively participating in class. Your peers and professor will likely respond well to this, creating a positive feedback loop for you to continue staying engaged.
  10. Get enough sleep. Our brains need rest, especially considering the increase in screen-time for so many of us. Stick to a sleep schedule that works for you and try to maintain it all week (including the weekends if you can).

We hope that some of these techniques help you stay engaged during online learning. Although this environment can feel limiting and frustrating at times, there are many benefits to virtual learning environments. We would love to hear from you if you try any of these techniques or if you have any other successful strategies!

Update on Fall 2020 Gap Year Programs

With the traditional start of first semester Gap Year travel only 3 months away, the plans of Gap Year programs this fall are starting to take shape. Here is a quick rundown on what is happening as of early June 2020.

International programs still planning to travel

Several programs have recently reaffirmed their intention to run programs to specific international destinations in fall 2020. These include several countries in Asia (Nepal, Indonesia and Bhutan) and Costa Rica. Each of these countries has a different situation related to COVID and ongoing travel restrictions. Each country also has a different reliance on tourism to support their national economy, which may impact the timing of their decisions to reopen. Bhutan for example has had only 48 confirmed cases of COVID, and all tourism visas remain suspended. Safety is paramount for all these programs, so it is still possible that while they plan to go as of today, they may still have to cancel their fall itineraries. (Other programs that have not cancelled for the fall have indicated they will make a decision by a specific date, e.g., July 15th).

International programs shifted to online activities

Global Citizen Year early in the pandemic cancelled all travel for the full 2020-21 year and has now launched its virtual Global Citizen Academy focused on social activism leadership. Some international programs are now offering online internships. Kaya is now offering remote internships in which students “will contribute to a capacity building-project for an organization tackling social or environmental issues in their local community”. United Planet’s response to COVID includes virtual internships in which students support host organizations in achieving their mission through remote project support and online tasks. Some areas of focus include social media, marketing and fundraising within childcare, education, global health and conservation organizations. AU Gap will be online in the fall, regardless of whether American University is holding on campus classes.

International programs shifted to domestic itinerary

Some programs which specialize in overseas travel have just announced programs in the U.S. for fall 2020. Several organizations which would normally have been in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America and elsewhere will now be running structured group programs in the western part of the U.S. (Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, California and Hawaii) and east coast (Maine, Vermont, New York, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Maryland). These activities tend to focus on social, environmental, and conservation issues along with some outdoor fun, adventure and skill building (e.g., backpacking, surfing and scuba certification). They are pivoting their field staff to these programs, so the students will continue to benefit from experienced leadership.

Domestic programs still planning to run

It is easy to assume that long standing domestic programs such as NOLS and Outward Bound will operate more “normally” in the fall. While certainly “easier” than programs sending students outside the U.S., these programs are still sorting out questions surrounding course sizes, structure, and logistics in order to restart operations that were shut down in March. Outward Bound just cancelled all summer 2020 programs, and NOLS has cancelled Alaska programs while devising programming running out of its Lander, WY location. Other domestic programs with a more “outdoor” orientation are also likely to rework their approach to ensure student and staff safety, and comply with governmental guidelines, including others in the Rocky Mountains. One of the U.S. based programs that typically runs many overseas itineraries is planning to run its borders and immigration program in the southwest U.S. regardless of the status of its international programs.

Domestic programs shifted to online activities

Unfortunately, domestic U.S. programs with a residential component have had to drastically rethink their approach for the fall, not unlike college campuses. Some of these programs have already shifted their programming to be 100% online. One California-based program recently announced that it was not only shifting international travel to the U.S. for its year long program, but it is also launching a brand new virtual experience. This new program “will combine intensive personal coaching and skill-building workshops with a virtual volunteer project in one of five areas: health, education, finance, government, and environmental action”. Another program in Tennessee just announced changes, and we expect to hear soon from programs in New York and Massachusetts that they will not run their normal programs in the fall.

New virtual programs launched

Crisis and uncertainty tend to fuel innovation, and the COVID pandemic is no exception. In addition to the Global Citizen Academy launched by GCY mentioned earlier, several new brand programs have recently launched. Boost by Kaplan is an online-only semester long program focused on workplace readiness. In the latest of the new launches, Domain has just come out from Impact Global Education. It describes itself as a “unique hybrid-learning program designed to provide young adults with the tools and knowledge to make better decisions about the next phase of life”. We have previously described ImagineU, launched by Gap Year Solutions as a virtual “add-on” to infuse students’ local activities with social connection, mentorship and structure.

COVID-19’s Impact on Gap Years

COVID-19 is changing every facet of our lives as we know it, especially in education. As college students have moved back home to take their classes online, so have many gappers. Gap year programs with students abroad, and even those traveling domestically, have discontinued programs and sent students home. Students who are back home must initially be in quarantine, while they adjust to reverse culture shock and the new normal (for now) of self-isolation. The uncertainty can be daunting and distressing, so Katherine Stievater recently held a virtual talk about the impacts of COVID-19 on Gap Years. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s happening right now?
Katherine: I have many students who were all around the world and away from home in the U.S. Now they’re all home – it’s a big adjustment. Many of these Gap Year programs do a great job of helping students adjust to reverse culture shock through outtakes and re-entry sessions, but that couldn’t happen this Spring as these companies didn’t have a chance to do that.

Have programs reimbursed their students’ families?
Katherine: All domestic travel and travel outside the U.S. has been discontinued. Most of these companies are not big, so there’s not a lot of extra cash. Some companies have refunded partial amounts, but it is happening on a case-by-case basis. The good news is that some of the students who were receiving college credits on their programs can continue to earn those credits with online classes!

What are you doing to help your Gap Year students transition?
Katherine: I’ve spent tons of time on web chats with my students. Everything happened so quickly and some of these students didn’t even know the extent of the impact of the virus in the U.S. because they didn’t have internet access while traveling abroad. They’re going from groups of, at most, 14 students to all of a sudden isolated in their rooms at home. I’ve helped these students cope with the transition and validate their experiences and feelings, as a lot of other people around them may not want to hear as much about it with everything going on. We do these web chats on Zoom every week now. For our next chat, I asked the students to cook something, and show this to the other Gappers – they loved this idea!

What about students who weren’t abroad, but were working?
Katherine: Some of my students aren’t interested in traveling during their Gap Year, which is totally fine. Gap Years are about learning valuable skills, like how to show up to a job on time, or work closely with other people, and solve problems with people with strong opposing views. Restaurants, retail, coffee shops and other sources of Gap Year jobs are now closed. Some onsite internships have moved remotely, or completely discontinued. I am helping all of my students, regardless of location this Spring, find ways to stay engaged outside their original Gap Year plan.

Number taking a gap year 2019-20

Okay, the million-dollar question… What does this mean for the Fall?
Katherine: We are trying to be cautiously optimistic about Fall 2020. We are going to be adaptable, creative, and nimble. More high school seniors are considering taking Gap Years in light of the COVID environment (2-3% in 2019 vs 6-7% in 2020). Colleges I have spoken with (e.g., Tufts, Boston College, Duke, Dickinson, Occidental) seem to be keeping the same deferral policies, so it is important for students to keep track of those deadlines.

In terms of Gap Year programs, most are still planning Fall departures. They’re building flexibility in their policies and adjusting the length and variation of the trips. For example, many semester-long programs may cut down from 15 or 10 week programs to 8 or 4 weeks. Programs are also looking into going into fewer countries to keep students safe. We may see that gappers choose to stay closer to home in the fall. I’m expecting many jobs suitable for gappers such as restaurants and retail to be back by the Fall. Traditional internships are a question as companies recover, however I expect “online internship” opportunities to open up. I have an intern who I work with remotely, so it is definitely an option!

College Support for Gappers (Part 2)

By Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of ‘22

Last month, we looked at how colleges and universities are providing support for Gap Year students through in-house programs, fellowships and financial support. Here we look at some steps schools have taken to welcome Gappers onto campus and help them assimilate into college life after having an experience that differs remarkably from that of most incoming Freshmen.

Some schools have clubs that help students with the transition from a Gap Year back to a traditional learning environment. Harvard does a wonderful job of this. The Harvard Gap Year Society serves “as a community for students who have taken, or are taking, a Gap Year before coming to Harvard College.” Students can reach out to a mentor, someone who has taken time off from school before coming to Harvard, on the homepage of their website. The Society also offers additional resources and information to help educate prospective students’ decisions.

Carleton College in Minnesota has its own club called Mind the Gap – a student organization that wants to increase the popularity of Gap Years. They focus on increasing awareness of alternative learning opportunities as well as creating community for students who have taken Gap Years. (Carleton is super supportive of Gappers both before and after their Gap time – read Greta’s first hand account on the Carleton Admissions blog).

Middlebury College and Colorado College are both known for long-standing support of Gap Years. Middlebury offers a variety of information on its admissions website about Gap Years, ranging from volunteering programs to outdoor expeditions to the best books to read during your year off from school. Colorado College offers its Fall Semester Away program, and CC’s President even blogged recently about the strength of its Gap Year community!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many universities offer free counseling services for their undergraduate students. Coming from a Gap Year back to school can present some unique challenges, so it is important for students to take advantages of services like these for their mental wellbeing. Sometimes simply talking to a campus advisor or mental health professional one-on-one can ease the transition.

While colleges become more and more encouraging of Gap Years every day, especially in the admissions office, it is important to recognize the schools who continue to consciously support their students after their arrival back on campus. From the resources mentioned here, to study abroad, to volunteering opportunities on campus, there is no doubt that Gappers can continue to build on their Gap Year experience when they enter college. More importantly, students who have taken Gap Years should feel supported and encouraged by the institutions they attend.

Note: Opening Photo – Greta Hardy-Mittell, Carleton College Class of ’23

College Support for Gappers (Part 1)

By Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of ’22

We have written previously about general college support for Gap Years. We thought it might be useful to dig a little deeper and give examples of programs and specific support from U.S. colleges and universities for the growing Gap Year movement!

While there is general encouragement within college admissions offices for Gap Years, it is less common to hear about how schools support their students both in pursuit of the right Gap Year experience and also how Gappers can best assimilate to campus life upon their return to an academic setting. It turns out that many colleges and universities offer their own Gap Year programs as well as clubs, activities, and resources to support students returning from a Gap Year.

As a leader in the study of International Relations, it should come as no surprise that Tufts University encourages students to broaden their global perspectives before stepping foot on campus. Tufts offers two programs: the Civic Semester, which sends incoming students to either China or Peru for their first semester, and the 1+4 Bridge Year, which is a more traditional Gap Year program sponsored by Tufts Tisch College of Civic Life. The Civic Semester has students on the Tufts campus for August, and then living with a local host family, studying the local language and cultural sites, and working part-time at a community organization for a semester. The 1+4 Bridge Year emphasizes volunteering and community service in Ecuador, India, Nicaragua or Brazil. Upon students’ return, Tufts hosts a retreat which enables all 1+4 students to reflect, connect with one another, and integrate their year abroad into their college experience.

Florida State University (FSU) highly encourages their incoming freshmen to take Gap Years. Through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement, FSU offers the Gap Year Fellows program to which admitted FSU applicants may apply in January each year. The Fellowship provides up to $5,000 to help fund a student’s Gap Year, which must include engaging in “service for a minimum of six months in a cross-cultural setting”. The program allows students to become a part of a greater community through structured group activities, team building and reflection upon their arrival to campus. The fellowship also works in conjunction with the FSU Center for Leadership and Social Change and other on-campus organizations so that students can continue to build on their Gap Year experience in college and beyond. Read first hand accounts of Gap Year Fellows here and watch video here.

Duke University launched its Duke Gap Year Program in 2018, and has now fully built out a website including tracking the locations of its students. According to DGYP, “Students accepted to the Duke Gap Year Program may receive between $5,000 and $15,000 towards the cost of their chosen gap year program, based on their gap year plans and financial need. If a student does not need funding, they are still welcome to apply to members of the cohort.” DGYP participants choose their own experience, the only requirement being that they enroll at Duke the following Fall.

Other schools such as Princeton University, American University and Elon University also offer their own unique programs. Princeton’s Novogratz Bridge Year accepts a select number of students to partake in a 9-month, tuition-free volunteer program in Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia or Senegal before freshman year. American University’s AU Gap Program takes place in the heart of Washington DC, where students can earn up to seven college credits and intern with an organization in DC. Elon University offers the Global Pathfinders Program for a select group of new students. The Global Pathfinders spend their first semester at University College Dublin. They take courses about Ireland, complete the core Global Experience course with an Elon faculty member, and participate in “engaged learning” by using the city of Dublin and surrounding areas to explore, learn, and grow. Upon return to campus in January, students gather to process and reflect upon how the experience impacted them.

It seems as though universities around the country are seriously stepping up their Gap Year game. So, how are schools supporting their students post-Gap Year? For the answer, tune in to the GYS Blog in March for Part 2 of this post!

Gap Years’ Lasting Impact

By Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of 2022

A Gap Year is an exciting opportunity for students, providing them with opportunities to get out of their comfort zones, gain valuable life skills, improve independent decision making, gain work experience, and so much more. But how does a Gap Year impact students further down the road once they’re preparing to graduate from college and finally enter the “real world?” Gap Year Solutions believes strongly that Gap Years will have a lasting impact in the lives of students who venture off the traditional path – especially as they navigate adulthood. However, it is one thing to believe this on faith. It is quite another to actually hear the amazing stories that reaffirm why we do what we do! So we spoke with college students to hear how their Gap Years continue to influence and impact their lives.

Lizzy Thidemann graduated from UMass Amherst last spring after taking a Gap Year before her freshman year. During her Gap Year, Lizzy completed a 3 month Outward Bound course in which she traveled to Southern states in the U.S. and the Patagonia region in Argentina and Chile. Through adventures such as backpacking, rock climbing, traversing across glaciers and much more, the program pushed her to new physical and mental limits. After her exciting outdoor voyage, Lizzy spent the rest of her Gap Year earning money as a lifeguard and gaining work experience through an unpaid internship at Tufts Medical. As she reflected on her Gap Year, Lizzy said, “The interpersonal growth that I experienced during my Gap Year helped me pick the major best suited for me, open myself up to new friendships and make my dream of studying abroad in Australia come true… I recommend that anyone who wants to take a Gap Year should. My mental health and college experience benefited in so many ways because of my Gap Year.”

Vicki Maler is another Boston-based college student who decided to take a Gap Year after high school. Vicki, a junior at Babson College, participated in a Jewish Gap Year program called “Kivunim.” Although Israel was the home base for the program, Vicki was able to travel with her cohort to 13 countries and importantly connect with fellow Jewish mentors and peers. This experience has inspired her to become more involved in the Jewish community. While studying “abroad” in San Francisco this past fall, Vicki interned at a Jewish consulting firm. When discussing the experience she said, “I interned at a consulting firm that worked with a lot of the organizations that I met while traveling the world and encountering various Jewish communities. It was a unique and enriching experience to have already met these organizations and then to learn more about their organizational structures and financial allocation through my internship.” When asked about the lasting impact her Gap Year has had on her, Vicki reflected, “I think that the biggest impact that my Gap Year has had on me is my love for learning and curiosity. Because of my Gap Year, I find myself reflecting on my experience and questioning everything. I push for hidden meanings and messages and do not just accept things as truth.”

A former Winterline gapper and current sophomore at Loyola Marymount University, Hayden Bartholomew, also reflected on her Gap Year; “I think more than anything my Gap Year made me more adaptable. I feel like I can handle anything thrown my way.” Another former Winterline student, Leela Ray Barlow, is now a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara and told us “My Gap Year showed me how to accept and present the ‘real me’ and it has changed the way I interact with people of all different backgrounds for the better.”

Finally, another junior at Babson had an impactful Gap Year experience. Walker Praznik spent part of his Gap Year traveling in Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia. He says, “Growing up in Colorado, I was not exposed to a global perspective. The opportunity to expand my perspective and become more globally sensitive and aware is something that I am grateful for.”

So what are you waiting for? Start figuring out how YOU will pause your formal academic training, to embark on a year or semester of REAL WORLD LEARNING, and possibly change your life forever!

You should take a gap year… and Colleges think so too!

By Anna Nickerson, Babson College ’22

The traditionally accepted educational path in the United States consists of students attending some sort of higher education institution, typically a 4-year college or university directly after high school graduation. However, this educational path often falls short for both students and the colleges they attend.

By some estimates over 30% of freshmen do not return to their initial college, either transferring schools or dropping out. This is not a desirable outcome for colleges, which have invested considerable resources in selecting their freshman class each year. More importantly, students have a difficult time making the transition from high school when the college is not a good fit, or they haven’t had enough time (and practice) to develop solid independent judgment and time management skills.

Partly as a result, colleges are seeing more stress and anxiety with incoming freshmen. According to the UCLA Freshman Survey, the number of freshmen who feel “frequently” depressed has been increasing steadily lately, jumping from 8.9% in 2013 to 12.2% in 2017. Colleges don’t want their freshmen to be unhappy or unable to balance school work with other activities. They want students who want to be there, are ready to be there, ready to learn, and likely to stay for all four years.

Enter the Gap Year! Gap Years provide students with an opportunity to work, do internships, travel, volunteer, or whatever it is that students and their families feel will help them grow and develop into more mature adults ready to tackle their collegiate careers. And fortunately for incoming freshmen, the majority of colleges have a very positive perception of Gap Years.

Of the 92 colleges surveyed by Gap Year Solutions recently, 85 had admissions representatives (92%) who reported that they were “supportive of Gap Years.” Many schools noted that they encourage and strongly support those students who are considering taking a Gap Year. The representative from Harvard University even stated, “[We] encourage them and want students to be here when they are hungry to be here.”

Given colleges’ positive attitude towards Gap Years, the schools make it relatively easy to defer and come back as a freshman the following year. For example, College of Charleston states, “We love for our students to take Gap Years and welcome them. Our policy is very straight forward. Students request to defer their enrollment and explain their Gap Year. From there, they agree to our terms and conditions before setting out on their Gap Year. We then send them an application update form to make sure nothing has changed to the original application and then accept them.” I myself took a Gap Year before entering Babson College as a freshman, and the process of deferring for a year was very simple and followed the same steps as outlined by the College of Charleston.

The decision to take a Gap Year is a personal one, but it should not be determined based on where you want to attend college. Nowadays, colleges are more open-minded about the needs and wants of their students and are willing to support more non-traditional paths, such as a Gap Year. It is very rare that a school will not accept your request for deferment, as long as you have a clear plan for your Gap time!

Growing the Gap Year Movement

Gap Year Solutions Founder Katherine Stievater recently attended the 2019 Gap Year Conference in North Carolina. This 3-day event aimed to grow the professional network of peers and provide education on current topics within the Gap Year movement. Hosted at UNC Chapel Hill, the conference saw the largest attendance yet with nearly 150 participants! Gap Year programs from the U.S. to China, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand and other countries sent representatives. Katherine was also able to catch up with gap year alumni, gap year advisors, fellow independent education consultants, and high school guidance counselors. 

Ryan (Irish Gap Year) and Zach (Pacific Discovery) having some fun

Throughout the event, there were many opportunities to learn about specific themes and hot topics in the Gap Year industry. Specifically, there were mini “Ted Talk” style events (called Voices Project Live) along with seminars and informational sessions. Among these, “DEIA” or Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access came up often. Many Gap Year programs can be quite costly and therefore may only see students applying from more affluent backgrounds. One of the questions that arose from this: “How can we level the playing field so that students from diverse socioeconomic, racial and other backgrounds can also take part in gap years?” Climate change also came up often: how can Gap Year programs, advisors, and independent educational consultants impact the environment in a more mindful and intentional way?

Throughout the course of this programming, a variety of other important considerations came up. There were professional development workshops, business strategies sessions for smaller and newer programs, and even mental health tools for students to use during the program and the re-entry process back into “normal life” after a Gap Year. 

Reception audience eagerly anticipating the next award!

Katherine and Alison Sever of Rising Earth Immersion planned the main reception, which was a fun night full of networking, food, drinks, and awards. Katherine on behalf of Gap Year Solutions was nominated as the person most responsible for growing awareness of Gap Years and driving the Gap Year Movement. While she did not win this year, the nomination recognizes the amount of time and energy she has spent evangelizing about Gap Years including the many benefits that taking a year off between high school and college brings to any student! (The award this year went to The Global Gap Year Fellowship at UNC Chapel Hill, which won for their terrific program which provides funding for students to take a Gap Year before beginning their formal college studies). 

Katherine meeting with Rutledge from Parachute, a new Gap Year Program

Katherine walked away from the conference with a number of questions that she is excited to begin exploring with Gap Year Solutions. Most notably is this idea of DEIA: how can we change the way Gap Years are seen or constructed to allow for a more inclusive and accessible educational opportunity for everyone? Katherine was also excited to learn more about the new Gap Year Research Consortium at Colorado College, a group of universities such as Duke, Stanford, Harvard, American University, Colorado College, and many more that are pursuing research to investigate the impact that Gap Years have had on college students. There is not a lot of Gap Year data available today, so it is exciting to see Bob Clagett, the Consortium Coordinator at Colorado College, leading this important effort. 

Overall the 2019 Gap Year Conference continues the effort to challenge conventional thinking, and encourage people to rethink Gap Years and get more excited about this unique educational opportunity for students. There is so much more to do to grow this movement!

What’s Your Story?

Katherine (far left) with Art History Abroad in Venice, April 2019.

Earlier this year, our Founder, Katherine Stievater visited several Gap Year programs in Europe. While with one of these programs, she spent time with a group of Gap Year students in Italy, and had the chance to speak with them over the course of several days about “Why” – why did they choose to take a step off the traditional path, and defer college for a year? This is not an easy choice for some students — as earlier posts have noted, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!) is a concern, as well as simply the willingness to be viewed as “different”. The students Katherine spoke with each had their own reasons, and stories.

  • “I didn’t feel like living in the world that I was told to live in – I wanted independence, and to take a break from things.”
  • “I wanted to grow up a bit before college.”
  • “My degree is only 3 years but would have done a gap year anyway!”
  • “I wasn’t ready for college – I have lived in a bubble, and now am understanding different cultures.”
  • “I just didn’t want to go to college right away. I wanted to spend some time doing other things.”
  • “I needed more time to make my college decision – I was sick so didn’t graduate until after everyone else anyway.”
  • “I was completely burned out. I just felt like I couldn’t study anymore and needed a break.”
  • “I have never been apart from my parents. I am a bit of a homebody, and wanted to make sure I was comfortable living apart from my parents.”
  • “I didn’t feel the need to go right to college. I wanted to get some space and experience before university. Where I’m from taking this time is pretty normal.”
  • “Both my parents and my sister took a gap year, so I always knew I wanted to do this – and I love to travel.”

So, what’s your story??