By now, most high school seniors have decided what college they will attend next year.
But, for some who have been offered second semester admission, the choice may not be so clear. That scenario could provide the perfect opportunity to pursue a half-gap year in the summer and fall, according to Linda Connelly, Gap Year Coordinator at New Trier High School.
“It gives them an opportunity to try something and clarify what they might want to do when they do get to college. It gives them a break in the education program, which some of them need, because they’re burned out.”
That was the case for 21-year-old Ashley Berger of Naperville. She graduated from Neuqua Valley High School in 2007, but had no desire to follow the traditional path to a four-year college. “I knew I wanted to go out and travel and see things,” Berger says. So, she joined AmeriCorps. She spent most of the next year helping flood-ravaged residents of Mississippi rebuild their community and working in boys and girls clubs in South Dakota and food banks.
Connelly says the gap year experience is perfect for students like Berger who “may be struggling in high school.” And, Connelly adds, “They can become highly motivated college students.” The gap year, where students take a period of time between high school graduation and college to travel or work rather than attending college, is very popular in the fall. A recent gap fair held at New Trier High School attracted hundreds of students and parents, according to Connelly.
Ben Wilcox’s gap year combined work, travel and studying. After graduating from New Trier in 2008, Wilcox spent that summer working at a nanotechnology firm. Then he travelled to Spain, England, France, Germany and Morocco. He came home to go to President Barack Obama’s inauguration and then left for Guatemala the following month.
Alex Gorman was feeling “a little burnt out” after graduating from New Trier in 2009. So, he spent a semester traveling to Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, where he did community service.
Perhaps surprisingly, Connelly says some parents are initially “very disappointed” when their children receive a January admit. But, she says, “After they’ve adjusted to it, the parents look at it as kind of a gift.” Plus, Connelly says there’s another benefit to doing a gap year or half-gap year: “The kids have created blogs, and they stay in touch with e-mail, and they network with people that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet otherwise.”