Discover Gap Years! – Part 2

Katherine Stievater, Founder, Gap Year Solutions

In Part 2 of excerpts from our Discover Gap Years! talk, I am highlighting a Gap Year myth or two that prevent students and families from fully considering the Gap Year option. I wrote about these a few years back – this is my latest take. (Check out Part 1 covering Gap Year Benefits here. In two weeks I will finish this short series with how Gap Year planning relates to the college application process.) I look forward to your comments!

Part 2: Gap Year Myths

I find that while there is greater awareness of Gap Years these days, there are still many misconceptions about them too. Here are four major myths surrounding Gap Years.

It’s Too Expensive

The first Gap Year myth – and I get this quite a bit – is that “a Gap Year is just so expensive, we can barely afford college with the crazy prices, and we could never afford a Gap Year”. I tell students and parents listening to my talk that if there’s one thing they learn from me, it’s that a Gap Year costs what you can afford. Some students will certainly work for a portion of their Gap time. I love it when students work to help pay for their experience. Many of my students will have jobs. Some students will travel. If they choose to do a Gap Year program, a lot of the programs have scholarships. If budget is limited, and students want to travel, maybe they can only travel for a smaller portion of their Gap time, but working and doing what’s within reason of your family’s budget is really critical. The bottom line (pun intended!) is every single family has their own budget and there is a Gap Year for every budget!

All About Travel & Adventure

A second Gap Year myth is that they are all about adventure and traveling abroad, and students then think “that’s just not me”. The reality is you don’t have to travel. I have many students that have no interest in traveling, I have many students that can’t wait to travel, so there’s just no set components of a Gap Year.

I had one student that actually started a sneaker company when he was in high school. He chose to take a Gap Year because he really wanted to see if this company could take off and it did. He ended up by taking a community college class, and succeeded in his dream of growing his company.

I had another student who got certified as a lifeguard. She also wanted to do some volunteer work. She did not want to travel, she just wanted to relax and get away from academics for a year. She was huge into cooking, and shadowed a chef. She just had a wonderful year.

Maybe my favorite example is a student who didn’t apply to college in his senior year. For a variety of reasons, I always suggest applying to college during senior year, but as this student shows, you certainly don’t have to. This student said “You know what, I have no idea what I want to do in college. So why would I want to apply?” So he took a Gap Year to figure things out. The first part of his Gap Year he took an EMT class, since he had seen an EMT speak in high school and couldn’t get it out of his head. Wouldn’t you know, he loved it so much that he got certified as an EMT and got a job doing that. In the middle all this, he had his aha moment – he decided he wanted to be a nurse! He applied to five nursing schools, got into all five, and the EMT company allowed him to work part-time to help pay for college. He is so happy, and he will say ten times over, “if I had not taken a step off the path and figured out what I wanted, I would never be where I am right now”.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

A third Gap Year myth is about FOMO. This may be the toughest part for many students when thinking about a Gap Year. They think, “yeah, a Gap Year sounds great, but I don’t know, I feel like I’m going to just get left behind.”  The reality: that will not happen – as long as you start with a plan!

When I work with high school students, I make sure that their plan for their fall semester is completely figured out before they graduate. So their friends may say, “I’m going to Babson” or “Rutgers” or wherever. To which my student says “I’m doing X, Y, and Z”. And they’re excited. They have a plan. It’s not this big unknown, where they have no idea what they’re doing. They’re not sad to hear what their friends are doing or seeing them in school on social media. These kids begin to mature quickly and they realize quickly what a special time the Gap Year really is.

I keep in touch with a lot of my students after their Gap Year. During their first year on campus, they’ll almost universally say that all their freshman friends are envious that they took a Gap Year. Their friends will say “hey, how’d you figure that out?” or “I wish I had done that!”. I’ve never had a student regret taking a Gap Year. The regrets I get are from parents who didn’t have the really honest conversation with their student about taking this time off before heading back to school. And I get regrets from the students that had this little voice in themselves saying, “I don’t know if I’m quite ready for college, I don’t know if I want to study right now, I think I need a break.” Listen to that gut!

There’s not a lot of other times in a young person’s life where they have this year, this kind of time. No mortgage payments. No student loans. No children to support. By structuring the year so it’s purposeful and productive, you will avoid FOMO.

It’s Not Me

A fourth Gap Year myth is that “Gap Years are just not for me”. Well, yes, they are! I truly believe that every single student can benefit from a Gap Year, and they are for anyone and everyone. All of my students are different, but they all have in common that they made a conscious choice to get out of their comfort zone, and find ways to grow. It’s not going to be comfortable all the time, but the growth is huge. Almost any student can benefit from building better life skills, and learning to be more flexible and adaptable. A Gap Year is certainly not a vacation – it requires purpose, planning and and accountability. With those ingredients, magic happens!

Next: Part 3 – Gap Years & the College Process

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