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Gap Years: Filling in the gaps before college

As you scale the final stretch of the mountain, you take a moment to pause and survey the breathtaking landscape that surrounds you. You breathe in the fresh air and listen to peaceful sounds of nature. A feeling of serenity washes over you. Meanwhile, your former high school classmates have just sat down to their first introductory college course.

From trekking up mountains to working at local coffee shops, the “gap year” is an enticing option for many students who feel that they need a break in between high school and college. For some, it means exploring unfamiliar places, people, and cultures – sometimes with a service component. Others immerse themselves in work, saving up for college or gaining early exposure to the professional world. Still, others take the time to pursue a passion or special interest.

With endless options at hand, more and more students are electing to take a year off before heading to college, and M-A students are no exception.

“I plan to travel to as many countries as I can and also spend time in Switzerland getting my BASI 1 and BASI 2 certifications, which allow me to be a ski instructor at essentially any mountain in Europe,” shares senior Lottie Plewman about her upcoming gap year. “I want to become more independent and self-sufficient and learn how to live on my own. I also want to work with all different types of people from all different cultures and backgrounds.”

Jack Tully, also a senior, has similar ambitions for his gap year. “I want to grow and develop as a person, get my credential for ski patrol, and have a nice time before I go off to college, taking a year to mature.”

There are many reasons why students divert from the traditional path of heading straight to college. According to Brad Ward, M-A’s newest college counselor, “It’s not laziness… it’s a much more purposeful thing, where [students] are identifying a set program for the next year.”

Personal growth seems to be a common theme among those who decide to take a year off. Ward considers the opportunity to “have one more year of maturity under your belt – a year of traveling, working, and working with adults especially” to be a major benefit of delaying college. Part of the gap year’s appeal lies in the fact that its design is essentially up to the individual, allowing each student to construct a plan that is specific to their own strengths and interests.

The flexibility of the gap year can have downsides, however. Ward notes that it is important to take advantage of the time off to create a solid plan, commenting, “If you just graduate and say ‘I’m going to do a gap year’ and then summer comes, and then all your friends go back to college in the fall, and you still don’t have a plan, that won’t work out.”

Furthermore, the extra experience and knowledge that a gap year provides can be a double-edged sword, potentially creating a barrier between you and your classmates once you return to school. “I think the disadvantages are probably not going straight into college and being with your age,” Plewman states. “You’re that much older and that much more refined and experienced, so you feel like you’re a little more mature than people going into college.”

For M-A graduate Scott Macdonald the “countless advantages” of taking a year off outweigh the “few disadvantages.” Macdonald is currently in Costa Rica, where he will be for the next couple of months, and plans to spend the rest of year working and taking a road trip to visit friends in college as well as some national parks. He says, “Anyone I’ve talked to that has taken [a gap year] has said they think it was the best decision they’ve ever made.”

Is a gap year the way to go for all high school students? It really boils down to whether they want another year to grow and mature – however, that may look – before they continue with their studies. The transition from high school to college provides a unique opening for exploration and growth. Many students, like Tully, figure that they “might not have another opportunity to have this sort of freedom and to be able to do whatever [they] want.”

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