The Real World Advantages of a Gap Year

In the current economy, you might worry that spending money on a gap year is extravagant.


However, financing time off for your high school student before college could be a solid investment.

It can positively impact how your teen chooses a major and career, and provide an edge in a competitive job market.

So diving in the coral reefs of Australia or trekking in the Taklimakan Desert in northwestern China is a smart career move?

Yes, according to Holly Bull, president of The Center for Interim Programs, in Princeton, N.J., a consulting firm that helps students plan gap years.

“Students can build resumes before they hit college,” she says. Gappers interested in medicine may have more contact with patients in South America and Asia, and job-like internships in other countries offer greater access and are easier to arrange.

Students land in college more focused

Bull recounts how a student interested in the medical field volunteered at a clinic in Costa Rica. After the experience, she knew she wanted to study public health in college. Gappers generally do better academically, too, Bull says.

Check out careers without a huge commitment

After one student interested in fashion spent a grueling internship in London (think “The Devil Wears Prada”), it was clear it wasn’t a good fit, says Bull, who decided against a career in marine biology during her gap time in Hawaii years ago when she realized she didn’t have the patience for field research.

In a survey of 280 American gap students, about 60 percent said the experience positively affected their choice of college major or career, says Karl Haigler, co-author of The Gap-Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off Before or During College, who conducted the survey.

Gap year students are strong job candidates

“Employers are very interested in gap year experience,” says Haigler, who works with companies as a human resources consultant. “What set these kids apart are the kinds of things they did and what they learned.” Skills like language ability, decision making, adaptability and working well in teams are valued in the workplace.

Meredith A. Berger, who grew up in Glencoe, traveled to Crete after high school graduation, following a brief stint working in a local jewelry boutique. She learned Modern Greek, studied history and poetry, interned in a cheese factory, and developed bonds with a local host family—all on a remote part of the island.

“The experience inspires you to be curious, to push yourself,” says Berger, now 27, who graduated from New York University in 2007 with a double major in Hellenic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. “I really had drive from the beginning to the end of college. I was really focused.”

“Parents worry that kids will get off track,” Haigler says, but instead, “they find their path.”

Advice to prospective gapers

“The profound affect” of her gap year inspired both major and career path, says Berger, who is planning to attend graduate school in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies. The experience also helped her become more confident and independent. She encourages parents to trust their children’s instincts if they need to take time off before college. “It was the best decision I ever made.”


Berger planned her gap time with the help of Marsha Ray, of Student Extended Experiences Consulting in Deerfield.

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