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Should You Consider A Gap Year Before College
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As a parent I used to worry that if my children didn’t go straight through college, they would never graduate. Now that they are all safely finished with college, and as a college-level educator with lots of older students in the classroom, I’m much more relaxed about the whole idea of a Gap Year, or teenagers heading off to do other things before jumping feet first into college.
It may seem like every 18 year old knows exactly where they want to go to school, what they want to study, and then, how they plan to spend the rest of their lives, but it’s just not true. There are so many teenagers coming out of high school who don’t really know what’s next, and the odds are, if they are sufficiently motivated they will finish college on their own schedule. Changing the building blocks of one’s future around, or stacking them in a new formation, doesn’t mean that person won’t accomplish great things.
One family with four children close in age, (including a set of twins), used air miles to fly their young adults to various destinations around the world. Once there, they stayed in hostels for the short term. And, whenever possible they participated in Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farmers (WWOOF), also known as Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Here they worked for room and board and really got to know a different country. Visit www.wwoofinternational.org for more information. There’s nothing quite like tilling the soil to clear your mind and slow down the pace of your life. If you aren’t wild about gardening, there are lots of other opportunities besides WWOOF. Another interesting possibility might be look at a group like the Quakers for volunteer work. Visit the American Friends Service Committee at www.afsc.org or other websites linked to Quaker projects to find out more.
Many different churches have international volunteer opportunities, but there are also lots of great projects happening throughout the United States. A student with some expertise or special skills in farming, building, childcare, healthcare, or skill with a second language, can be a valuable addition to most volunteer endeavors.
How can you be sure that college will follow such adventures? No guarantees. But a year like this costs a lot less than a junior year abroad. And unlike being a college student in a foreign country where you are surrounded by other students, you are plunged into a different culture and language.
In addition, you learn responsibility. No one else really cares if you miss your train. If you want dinner you have to figure out where to get it and how to pay for it. You can’t just swipe your meal card that your parents paid for at any old cafeteria in Prague or Moscow.
It may not be for everyone, but a Gap Year spent traveling -- at any time during the college years,-- can result in a young adult who is clearer about what he or she wants in life. This is a person who can jump into college with confidence and maturity and who may, ultimately, be prepared to excel in school and life. And colleges can’t help but be interested in students who have shown the initiative to get involved in helping others, exploring some place besides their own hometown, and gaining some valuable experience.
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