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??

Roof Pups

CUBA ROOFPUP 20151215_172321

Photo Credit: John Widmer, roamingaroundtheworld.com

One of our Gappers completed his Gap Year in Spring 2017. We recently caught up with him and he told us about the phenomenon known as “roof pups” in Cuba.

What did you do during your Gap Year?

I worked in two restaurants in the Fall and early Winter, to make money to help pay for my trip to Cuba, and also volunteered with an organization that prepares meals for families living with difficult illnesses. The trip to Cuba was organized by a Gap Year program.

Can you describe your trip to Cuba?

The trip had 10 students and 2 group leaders. We traversed the country from east to west over three months, visiting 10 cities including Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Viñuales.

You really wanted us to know about what are called “roof pups”. Why?

Sometimes when you are in a country outside the U.S., you experience something so different, it really sticks with you. Roof pups are one of those things – we all just found them so interesting, and the reason they exist taught us a lot about Cuba and maybe what we take for granted here in the U.S.

Where did you see the roof pups?

In the eastern part of the country – Holguin, Camaguey, and some of the poorer areas. We did not see them in Havana.

When did you first come upon them? Can you describe that experience?

As our group was walking through one of the first cities we visited – I think it was Holguin but I can’t remember – we heard dogs barking that we thought were family dogs, but it turned out they were living on the roofs of houses. It was kind of strange to see them looking down from roofs. Sometimes the roofs were pretty high up there, maybe even three stories up. They would bark a lot, but we kind of got desensitized to them after the first week. It was kind of weird at first, but we then we just tuned out the barking when we heard it.

What did you learn about why the dogs were on the roof?

It turns out that roof pups are stray dogs. There is no money in Cuba for a lot of things, but in these areas they had even less money. So there were a lot of stray dogs and no animal control infrastructure. And none of these dogs are spayed or neutered. So the people living there decided to take matters into their own hands, and take dogs off the street. They basically did this so that the dogs wouldn’t breed. Having said this, there were still a lot of stray dogs around too. Some in our group would touch the strays, they would feel bad, but there wasn’t much you could do.

Anything else you want to add about roof pups or your trip?

We realized that Cubans don’t have pets the same way we do in the U.S. Some Cubans do, but most can’t really afford to feed themselves, so having a pet is really a luxury. I think the minimum wage in Cuba is something like $40 a month. The average American spends over $1,000 a year on their dog. It’s weird to think we spend more money on our dogs than the Cuban government spends on its people. We are privileged in ways we don’t understand.

Transitioning from a Gap Year to College (Part 2)

by Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of 2022

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Anna and Alex, one of her best friends from her gap year, reaching the peak of Wind River Range

While my transition to college definitely had its challenges, my gap year really helped with a number of things. First of all, the prospect of living with a roommate during my freshman year was far less daunting after living with thirteen people on my gap year. During the entire 9 month gap year program, I only had my own room for one week. I had 1-4 roommates the rest of the time. I learned how to live with others — through the best and the worst. While this was a challenging component of my gap year, it set me up for success in college. I was more confident about maintaining a positive relationship with my roommate, and we became good friends.

Another huge transition for all college freshmen is the level of independence they’re granted. So many students go from living at home with parental boundaries and a curfew to living in the dorms with very few rules. My gap year gave me some level of independence that was in between these two, which taught me how I can most effectively manage and plan my own time. This is an invaluable skill in college, and allowed me to balance my academics with extracurriculars, my social life, and even sleep (yes – I got about 7-8 hours every night!). So many college students say they have to compromise; if they want a good social life, their grades have to suffer, or if they want good grades, they have to settle for 5 hours of sleep. The reality is that there’s a balance and the key is learning how you plan best. On my gap year, I learned that I like to have a schedule and hold myself to things by being accountable to myself. I then applied this to my lifestyle in college, which set me up to handle my independence responsibly.

There were also a couple things that were surprising about the transition from my gap year to college. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I was terrified on the first day of school; so nervous to make new friends or that I’d embarrass myself in class. The reality is that I developed strong interpersonal skills on my gap year and as a result it made my transition better. By my second week at school, I realized I didn’t have to worry so much.  Sometimes I look back on graduating from high school and wonder what would have happened if I went to college without a gap year. I know myself much better after my gap year, and I know things would have been much rockier. I am a different, better, and more mature person as a result of my gap year, which definitely helped the transition.

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One of Anna’s pictures taken near Venice, Italy during photography class

Students who have taken gap years experience things that their freshman peers do not — they mature, gain experience, solve problems, see parts of the world, and often live away from home for the first time. Many gappers arrive on campus at a different level of maturity and engagement, which I like to call a “double-edged sword.” While this maturity benefited me in the classroom and my GPA, in some ways it hindered me socially. I had a more difficult time making friends during the first semester because I felt so many fellow freshmen were immature. But after some misses with friends in the first semester, I discovered the type of people I wanted to be friends with, and I have made good friends including some students at Babson who also took gap years.

In conclusion, everyone’s transition from a gap year to college will be different, and it will be challenging one way or the other. And that’s okay. My biggest piece of advice is to first focus on finding the gap year that is the best fit for you. From there, you can leverage your newfound skills and experiences to thrive in college. Don’t expect college to be easy just because you took a gap year, but also don’t lose sight of who you have become as a result of your year away from school.

Anna and her Babson friends after a great Freshman year!

Transitioning from a Gap Year to College (Part 1)

By Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of 2022

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Anna near Boulder CO before embarking on her gap year.

When I first took a gap year, I got a flood of questions from friends; “Will you feel weird about not still being in our graduating class? What about college? Can you defer? Are you planning to even go back to school?” Despite the unorthodox path I was taking compared to my friends, I knew that this would best prepare me for my first year of college and my life beyond that — despite others’ opinions. When I look back on my gap year experience, I’m even more confident I made the right decision. My gap year was challenging, exciting, and allowed me to do things I never could have dreamed of doing in college or once I start working professionally.

All gap years are different, and there’s no program that is “One Size Fits All.” When I planned my gap year, I wanted to get the most adventure, travel, and skill-building out of a program as I could. I decided to do a program which takes students to 10 countries over 9 months, and teaches gappers a wide variety of “life skills”. It was the best fit for me and satiated my desire to see and learn as much about the world as I could (in less than a year). With that said, I have college friends who elected to stay home and work, take classes abroad, and even work on a political campaign while on their gap years. The first part of the gap year planning process is identifying what you want to get out of your year, which can then lead you to a year-long program, a series of shorter programs, or even a DIY gap year.

Once you identify what you want and then eventually embark on your gap year, most students choose to go on to college (usually the one they deferred originally). So now what? You’ve had a potentially life changing experience on your gap year and you’re expected to go back to the classroom. What is that going to be like?

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Anna on her first day at Babson College

Well, everyone’s transition to college is a rollercoaster, regardless of whether or not you’re a “gapper.” To give you context, I’ll be drawing on my own personal experience as I just completed my freshman year of college. My transition from my gap year to college was not necessarily easy, but I feel strongly that it went much more smoothly than it would have if I hadn’t taken my year off from school. I attend Babson College, which is a small, private business school outside Boston. Jumping into a competitive, academically-rigorous and entrepreneurial environment right after traveling the world definitely had its challenges.

Firstly, my intense workload at school was an immediate challenge. It wasn’t the difficulty of the assignments or exams that made Babson particularly challenging, rather the workload itself. Because I had been in an alternative learning environment for so long on my gap year, it took a lot out of me to sit in a cubicle on the third floor of the library doing homework and writing papers for hours on end. I simply wasn’t used to that. Although this was a challenge, it didn’t slow me down. I learned the importance of both giving and receiving feedback on my gap year. This allowed me to more openly communicate with my professors, so I felt comfortable asking for help during office hours or even during class. So many students struggle through college and ignore their learning resources, such as office hours, student tutors, librarians, counselors, etc. I learned on my gap year that it’s a good thing to not only ask for help, but to be proactive about it. And as for those long sessions in the library, I discovered ways to make it easier. I changed up my location every couple hours, studied with friends, and made sure to take breaks.

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Anna and her gap year friends in Belize before jumping off 30 foot cliff!

Another challenge, probably the biggest one of my entire first semester, was how much I missed my gap year friends. Obviously everyone has to make new friends in college, which can be daunting. I felt like this was especially difficult for me because I had just left my closest friends, people whom I considered family, on my gap year. By the end of my gap year, I felt much closer to these friends than I have ever been with my high school friends. Traveling and living with people for 9 months brings out the good, the bad, and the ugly in everyone. But it’s through that shared experience that strangers become best friends. And very few high school friendships are like that, at least from my experience. Because of my expectations for having deep and profound friendships, I found it really difficult to start over with superficial acquaintances in college. As a result, I felt lonely during the first semester, until I joined a sorority and other on-campus organizations and found better friends during the second semester. While this challenge is prevalent for every incoming college freshman, I think it can be particularly difficult for gappers, especially those who have spent intensive months forming life-long friendships. That makes starting over with new friends at school even more difficult.

 — To Be Continued —

In Part 2 of “Transitioning from a Gap Year to College” (August 2019), Anna discusses how her gap year helped her adjust to college life, and final advice for gappers as they head off to college.