Guest post by University of Washington Nursing student Alicia Spiess

As high school graduations are being celebrated across the country, our guest author has some thoughts on whether or not it might be a good option to take a year off before pursuing further education. In this post, we hear about the ‘gap year.’

According to Forbes, the average yearly in-state tuition for a 4-year university is $30,000. Private and “elite” universities can cost double that. An average of 70% of America’s high school graduates attend college, and of those attendees, 1 out of every 3 drop out. One alternative that is common in other countries for high school graduates not ready for university is to take a year off. A “gap year,” consisting of constructive learning, is an option that is not often talked about in this country. When I began college in 2001, I did not know a gap year was an option, and as I was in my early 30’s, I ended up taking a sabbatical because of my own burnout and desire to experience other cultures. Looking back, I may not have done anything differently because I felt I was ready for university, but there are so many youth out there today who may not feel the same.

A gap year in the case of our youth can be defined as taking a “sabbatical” in-between the time one completes high school and starts university. This can push youth to discover who one is as a unique individual and what one wants to do in the next phase of their life. A year is a common amount of time taken off, and shorter time periods are possible, but not as common. A gap year does not mean your teen will sit on the couch all day playing video games or watching TV, but rather should be spent learning responsibilities and discovering new possibilities. The youth in both Europe and Australia have been participating in gap years for decades beginning in the 1970’s. Currently 12% of Europe’s youth take a gap year compared to 1.2% of those in American. We have to think, is a gap year such a bad idea? Instead of pressuring our youth to go straight into college, can we be open to other options to ensure the long-term success and decreased burnout of our youth which could follow them into adulthood.

What is to be gained from taking a gap year? This additional year may help our youth gain personal or professional experience through volunteer work in a field of interest, working to learn trade, learning a second language, or exploring their personal interests, all of which will be of great value for them throughout their lifetime. In a YouGov survey, in which 251 human resource employees participated, 46% said they would be more likely to employ a graduate who participated in a “constructive” gap year. Other studies have shown that students who have taken a gap year had a higher likelihood of completing their degree and with higher GPAs than those who did not. In fact, 9 out of 10 youth who took a gap year returned to college and completed their degree successfully.

Taking a gap year is not without its challenges. Taking a year off may become expensive. Some ways your teen can overcome this obstacle is to start planning early by saving money, fundraising, or by asking friends and family to donate. Some colleges or universities allow students to defer a year which ensures their spot the following year. It seems there are far more advantages than disadvantages in taking a gap year before college for those who may need it. A gap year can help youth to gain identity, as well as give them an advantage when it comes to scholarship applications and resumes. Several resources are listed below to help guide you and your teen in making a decision as to whether a gap year is right for them.

Tips and Resources for Readers:
Tips:
1. Encourage your teens to explore their interests without swaying them.
2. Help your teens to discover who they are through support and encouragement.
3. Take some pressure off your teens to attend college or university straight out of high school when they are not ready.
Resources:
1. “College Costs Could Total As Much As $334,000 In Four Years” article
2. “Why Are Gap Years More Common in Europe than the US”
3. Book: “Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs”
4. University Deferral Policies for Gap Years: http://www.americangap.org/fav-colleges.php
5. Gap year Programs: https://usagapyearfairs.org/programs/
6. Choosing a program abroad: https://www.gooverseas.com/7. LEAPNOW Transforming Education: http://www.leapnow.org/