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Not Just for Europeans: Why the United States Should Encourage Gap Years

In the United States, it seems as though most college-bound high school students follow a similar path. They apply to colleges during their senior year, commit to one in the spring, and begin attending the following fall. This blueprint, however, is not synonymous around the world; in Europe, gap years are already common practice. Many students find taking a one-year break between high school and college to be incredibly beneficial.

Gap years are often used as an opportunity to travel, get work experience, pursue an interest or passion, or volunteer. They are seen as a great way to increase maturity and experience before starting college. The most successful students are ones who set goals for themselves and work towards figuring out who they are as a person. Many programs, like Go Overseas, can help students find a good fit for themselves.

The benefits of gap years are undeniable. According to the American Gap Association, 98% of participants said it helped them develop as a person, 97% said it increased their maturity and 84% said it helped them discover skills that would make them more successful in their career. Gap years have also been credited with increasing cultural awareness and creativity. In the future, gap years appear as an asset to future employers by showing that the individual is responsible and open to new experiences.

Despite all of the proven benefits, there are still misconceptions around the idea of taking a year off. Some assume that the break in school encourages laziness or discredits the importance of a college education. Others assume that gap years are only accessible to the upper middle class, or individuals with a large budget to support their travels. The reality is that gap years help students to view themselves as global citizens with increased interest in experiencing other cultures. A majority of people who take gap years have agreed that it increased their interest in college and helped them discover their future major or career path. Almost all colleges approve gap years that are accompanied with a reasonable plan, and some colleges have formally encouraged them. As far as finances go, gap years don’t need to include international travel, or even last a whole year. A variety of programs can help you to find programs that last weeks instead of months. Additionally, scholarships, grants and financial aid are available to help students put their plans into action.

Gap years are fantastic ways for students to discover themselves and gain invaluable experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. There is a reason that high profile students like Malia Obama are choosing to take a year between high school and college, and gap years are gaining popularity each year in the United States. Consider what experiences would be the most beneficial to you, and hear what other students are saying about their own gap year. For more information about opportunities or for help planning your own, attend a gap year fair or look into organizations like Teen Life that can help make your dreams a reality.

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