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Gap Year - has anyone experienced it?

Original post made by Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School, on Mar 11, 2010

Our Paly senior has decided to defer college for a year to experience a Gap Year. This phenomenon is widely popular in Europe and is well accepted by parents, students, colleges and employers as being very beneficial and is now gaining popularity in the US. Has anyone experienced this with their PA grads and do you have any pros and cons worth sharing?

All comments would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

Comments (36)

Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2010 at 1:20 pm

The student will be one year older than his or her peers, if that matters. Just a thought - not sure how material this is to the student.

Part of our family is from a European country and honestly I haven't heard of any doing the gap year. I AM familiar with the travel-around-Europe backpacking on a budget summer adventure, though. That's not quite a gap year, of course. One meets lots of Australians if you do this, according to stories I have been told.


Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I am from Europe and I can tell you that in my home country high school graduates go straight to college, other education, or work. No such thing as a gap year for the average person there.


Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Here's how wiki describes it

Web Link


Posted by world travel
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I think spending a year traveling the world as a teenager (especially the developing countries) would be a fantastic experience that would just enhance what your child learns in college. Same goes for volunteering at a worthwhile charity or interning at an interesting company. On the other hand, staying home and playing video games for year would be a tremendous waste of time.

No one cares if you're a year older than the other freshmen.


Posted by Kevin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I remember being in Florence, Italy when a bunch of German and British teenagers, liberated by their gap year, rudely interrupted church services, and came crashing down the various clock tower stairways, without regard for others. They were so immature as to make their countries of orign shamed.

It is a bad idea.

All American HS graduates should be compelled to to do one year of national service. Otherwise, they are not allowed to vote, or get government finanacial backing. Any college who admits them gives up all government contracts and subsidies.


Posted by Gap year at 25 years old, for me
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I spent a half year traveling from what was then East Berlin to South Italy, north to Britain and into the poorest parts of Spain, just post Franco.

I was 25.

I learned to appreciate the freedoms I had as an American, the model of govt we had, and the model of economic growth we had. I was basically a "socialist" by idealism then, but once I saw what "joys" socialism and the cousin to socialism had wrought in various countries, seeing with my own eyes what was considered "rich" and "poor" in various countries, I came to study my own history, govt and economics better...and vote wiser.

I am not sure that I would have seen this as a teenager, not being too sure I was wise enough to interpret what I saw. But, if I had a dream, it would be that every American be wise and have my experiences by the time they are of voting age so they can vote wiser and appreciate their country.

That would be the "gap year" I would love to see,though I am sure there are many great ideas.


Posted by Kevin S
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2010 at 7:47 pm

My son did a gap year after high school and it has worked out wonderfully. He is now a sophomore in college. He spent the year doing volunteer work in South America and then working for a relative in Ireland. Not all of my children will do a gap year and I am not sure they would all benefit, but for some kids it is the way to go. There are many kids doing this now and colleges will gladly defer you for a year. Many colleges are now encouraging this.

My son is a July birthday, so he did not enter college much more mature or older than his peers. Age is significantly less important in college.

I can't think of one down side to this decision, especially because your kid wants to do it. When else will they have a chance to so clearly be free to explore? And this is their decision! You have a mature kid.

You will likely hear from relatives, especially grandparents, what a bad idea this is. But the world is different and, from my experience, they do come around.

Good luck going down the road less traveled with your kid!


Posted by Gap'd it
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 1:22 am

I did the gap year between college and grad school. It was a good break. Worked in the real world, and did some traveling. I think I would have burned out in grad school were it not for this year off. I think this is a personal decision. If someone is not ready to give it their all in college, then a year off doing something productive and interesting could be really worth it in the long run.


Posted by Gap Year
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 2:44 am

Gap year can be spent in Iraq. ROTC can help pay for it.


Posted by Bill R.
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 12, 2010 at 4:44 am

I've known lots of students who have taken gap years after their senior year of high school. Some of them needed a dose of the real world, some needed time to mature, others could have gone to college straight away and been really successful but wanted an alternative learning experience based in the real world before college. It was an incredibly valuable experience for all of these students.

While some of these students may gain a lot from complete independence traveling and living entirely independently, most would truly benefit from participating in one of the many gap year programs available out there. There are domestic service programs like Americorps (www.americorps.gov), international service learning programs like Thinking Beyond Borders (www.thinkingbeyondborders.org), and a whole lot of other options. There's a great website that has info about many of these programs at www.usagapyearfairs.com. The best thing about a program is that it has structure and purpose, so you have a firm grasp of what your kid will gain from the experience.

Good luck!


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 12, 2010 at 5:04 am

Sounds like the decision to take a gap year (probably more like 15 months) has already been irrevocably made, so we should try to put a positive spin on it if we can find one. I imagine there are some kids who may really benefit from an extended break in formal education, if they are ambitious enough to use the time well, and don't just find themselves wandering with an aimless group of free spirits. Foreign travel is always good, at least getting them out of the house. Even getting sucked into some exploitive volunteer position may be a memorable experience learning about what to avoid in one's future. A question is whether a college acceptance is already in the bag, or something to worry about all over again next fall.

None of my Cubberley friends took a year off (dating myself here). Three months of summer was a sufficient break, after somewhat coasting through our final semester with "senioritis". Even though we physically scattered to different states in the fall, it felt like we were together in our experience of "going off to college." It really was a serious transition that took a leap of faith that everything would turn out okay.

I did my "backpacking through Europe on a Railpass" thing during summer between junior and senior year of college. Highly recommended. Serendipity at every turn. Met so many other adventurous young people of very different backgrounds. Take 8 or 10 weeks. I think a whole year of it would've driven me nuts. But I did meet several Australians who were doing so.

After college I took a two-year gap before grad school, with a real world technical job here in Silicon Valley. That helped me choose my direction of study and decide where to go. And gave me time to actually look forward to going back to school. So yes, there's my extended break in formal education. Worked out very well.

Best of luck to all concerned. Everyone's experience is unique. Always look for the bright side and life will reward you.


Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 5:19 am

Never heard of it in Europe where I lived for 31 years.
Who made this up?

One of the most prolific and finest non-fiction writers, John McPhee writes about his gap year in "The headmaster" and in many of his writings for the New Yorker.
Check it out.


Posted by Koa
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2010 at 9:47 am

Must be nice to have money.


Posted by pa parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

Since so many parents these days are "red-shirting" their kids -- sending them to school a year or more later so they'll be bigger and older when they start school -- it sure seems like a gap year is a bad idea unless it's for working, national service as suggested above, or serious travel.

I've been reading about how delaying experience in the workforce for young adults can permanently set them back over their careers. There is some evidence at least that kids started YOUNGER in school have higher starting salaries (no explanation why). I would want to know that the combined effects of redshirting and delays from a gap year don't hurt overall motivation and experience in the workforce. (Your kid may not have been redshirted or be young enough to be a part of that trend, but it's an issue coming up soon for many.)


Posted by pa parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

Since so many parents these days are "red-shirting" their kids -- sending them to school a year or more later so they'll be bigger and older when they start school -- it sure seems like a gap year is a bad idea unless it's for working, national service as suggested above, or serious travel.

I've been reading about how delaying experience in the workforce for young adults can permanently set them back over their careers. There is some evidence at least that kids started YOUNGER in school have higher starting salaries (no explanation why). I would want to know that the combined effects of redshirting and delays from a gap year don't hurt overall motivation and experience in the workforce. (Your kid may not have been redshirted or be young enough to be a part of that trend, but it's an issue coming up soon for many.)


Posted by fun fun fun
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

It fairly well known in Europe but isn't that common. Most students just go straight from school to uni so it's not like "everyone does it". That's more like the New Zealand big OE (Overseas Experience) before they settle down.
For those who have never heard of it, even the Prince of Wales did it: Web Link

Lots of reasons for doing it and there isn't any issue with being a year (or 2 or 3) older at universities in Europe. Some students get better results than they expected and want to apply for a different course/university. Others just want to see the world before having to commit to 3/4 years at one institution. There's a whole industry around backpacking and they just take advantage of that.

If your senior has got a current offer and is able to delay it for a year, then let go for it. They will surely enjoy it. Once they finish college, it's time to join the real world. At least this way around they get to take time out.


Posted by Gap year is good
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:54 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

A friend of mine is a cousin of the Admissions Director at Harvard. He advocates for a gap year--but not a play time vacation gap year--do something meaningful and learn from your experience type of gap year--volunteer in another country, get experiniece beyond your comfort zone, live and work and make a contribution--it does not have to be academic but it does need to be something that will help you grow as a person, and international experience is very good. There are lots of programs out there ranging from fun to real work. Some schools (Princeton, for one) even have gap year programs for a small number of admitted students--but you have to apply and be selected. The right gap year experience can only be good--giving the student more maturity, more understanding of other cultures/economies (many programs are in underdeveloped countries). Living and working for 10 months in South America or Africa can change your view of the world and maybe your view of your future. This change can make your whole college experience very different and more fulfilling. But it is not for every kid.

If in doubt, contact the school your child will be going to and ask their advice.


Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 11:45 am

At the Gunn alumni panel in early January, 2-3 Gunn alums described their Gap year. One was a volunteer teaching recent immigrants in Israel, one had volunteered at an orphanage in India, I think, another had been in Africa. Some were on an established program, the girl who went to India made the connection through a parent on a foundation board that supported the orphanage. One of the alumns said she worked hard in hs and her 1st year of college, then burned out and took off a semester. She wished she had taken a Gap Year instead.

All said 1) it's not for everyone. But for those wanting the experience the way to do it is to apply and get accepted to college, then defer. Have an organized plan. For the kids who did it, they said it changed their life and were more prepared & focused in college than they would have been had they not done the Gap Year.


Posted by Molly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm

In Israel they have to serve time in the military before attending college and the person who told me said many enjoy the break from schooling.


Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Exploring a Gap year sounds like a good idea if your student isn't sure he/she is ready for college. Why waste a year's tuition if the student doesn't want to be there?

I heard that PAUSD Superintendent Skelly's son had a good experience in his gap year.

Maybe you could ask the Guidance Dept. to host a meeting on this topic?


Posted by Traveller
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I didn't go directly to college after finishing high school. It was my decision, not my parents, to do a bit of traveling (at my own expense) to NYC and I've never regretted my decision. I got a job there and had a wonderful time. In fact, I didn't go to college until I was in my later twenties. By that time, I was ready to sit down and take my studies seriously.

I understand there is a critical situation currently with Palo Alto teens. Why not work with them, find out what they'd like to do when school finishes, and offer our loving support.


Posted by MEJ
a resident of Triple El
on Mar 12, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I have three sons (the youngest is a freshman at Paly). When the oldest graduated high school in 2002 he was only 17. It seemed best that he take another year to mature before starting college and he agreed. Instead of sending him traveling on his own, our family of five traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Oceania for 11 months. We were able to take leaves from our jobs and we home-schooled the younger boys. The trip was a defining moment for our family and utterly unforgettable. We roughed it, but that was part of the experience. My son went on to Pomona, graduated with a degree in International Relations, and went to Hong Kong on a Fulbright. International experiences are powerful.
So when our second son graduated in 2008 our family decided to do something similar. This time we all spent 6 months in South America, some of the time spent working on service projects. We all learned or improved our Spanish and again created amazing shared experiences. Our middle son is a freshman at Pomona, and though a bit older than his peers, he has jumped in with renewed energy and passion.
Our youngest is already making suggestions for what he would like to do during his gap year. Obviously not all families can make a shared "gap year" work, but I just wanted to share our very positive experience.


Posted by Jack
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 13, 2010 at 8:13 am

Our son's high school (MVLA) held a "gap year fair" a couple weekends ago. There had to be more than thirty gap year programs attending and I was overwhelmed by the range of opportunities available to students who want to delay college and explore themselves, and the world, in such a different way. Talking with the exhibitors that day, it was easy to see how valuable and exciting these experiences would be for any curious student. They can intern, volunteer, trek, study language, culture and/or development or global issues. Some programs offer college credit and some are right here in the US. Some cost nearly as much as a year of college and others are essentially free. All seem to provide the mentoring that is critical for students to reflect and grow from their experiences. The two programs that sponsored the event, Dynamy Internship Year and Thinking Beyond Borders, were good examples of the range of possibilities. You can find web links to all of the programs that attended at www.USAGapYearFairs.org. A couple other resources that I discovered at the fair which you might find helpful:

Books
The Gap-Year Advantage by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson
The Complete Guide to the Gap Year by Kristen White

Video
Time On, Planning a Successful Gap Year (www.ReelWisdon.com)

Best of luck with your son's decision. My son and I look forward to hearing how it woks out!


Posted by It's a good thing
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2010 at 10:31 am

I took a year off before going to college, I felt I was too immature for college and it was a very good idea.
Didn't need a "program" or anyone to tell me what to do. I got a job and watched the world and people and thought about my life. My parents were a little concerned that I might not go to college but I knew I just wanted to mature a little. It was a good thing and I was happy to go back to school after the year.


Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Narnia says: "Never heard of it in Europe where I lived for 31 years." It's common amongst upper class Brits. Prince William took a gap year and worked in an orphanage in Chile before attending Aberdeen University. His girl-friend had a gap year too.

Is a gap year a good idea. Well, if your child is only going for an undergraduate degree it will mean he's through college by age 23 and that's OK.

My son went on to get a Masters then a PhD, by the time he'd done two years of a post doctoral he was 33 years old. Believe me it's tough helping to support your child for that number of years and then if he'd had a gap year before all this started he'd be 34 before he got a good job to support himself and his family!!!


Posted by Dorothy Black
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Of my 4 children who attended Palo Alto Schools through 12th grade, 3 took time out for various reasons, no pre-planning, they were open to other ideas. All eventually completed 4 years of college. Two were pretty much self supporting during their "gap" years. This is only a "bad" idea if nothing positive comes of it.


Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2010 at 6:17 pm

That's what I thought.

This gap year thing seems to be much more of an American tradition than a European one, from what I read here. Unless you consider British Royals, and such, to be average Europeans, of course.


Posted by BT
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm

"his gap year thing seems to be much more of an American tradition than a European one"

No. It's quite common in Britain (for at least two decades), and not just amongst upper class. But it is as rare in Europe as it is here.


Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2010 at 11:49 pm

I'm a Paly teacher and advisor who wrote a book review about a guide to gap year programs. I certainly think it's an idea more people should consider. (The book review actually covers two books, so you might want to skip the first half).

Web Link


Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm

And I'd like to add, speaking as a community member more than as a teacher, that it would be nice to see fewer anonymous posts on Town Square. Just a thought.


Posted by Anne
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2010 at 4:22 pm

One caution about taking a gap year, your college bound student may find he has lost some of his studying skills if he takes a gap year. He may have to relearn his good study habits again and that will take some self-discipline and hold him back for awhile.


Posted by Rebecca
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2010 at 5:45 pm

My daughter is graduating from Menlo School and is also planning on taking a gap year. Can anyone recommend a good gap year counselor for us to help plan her gap year? There are many different organizations out there.


Posted by Gapper
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 26, 2010 at 6:33 pm

My gap year was spent in the US Army. Actually they were 3 gap years. But hey, the Europeans do it, so must we non-independent thinkers.


Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Mind The Gap

Spending gap years in the US Military is a great idea-- builds spine, courage and character.

Otherwise without such structure gap years are a very bad idea.

eg in the UK the undergraduate degree takes 3 years, an additional 1 to 2 years gives you a professional degree, medicine takes a bit longer but not much.

In the US an undergraduate degree takes at least 4 years and many students take 5 or 6 years to graduate, a professional degree takes an additional 2 to 5 years-- so students will be in their 30s before they face the real world--- if they take non military gap years.

Most European gap years are ones of aimless hedonism-- they fall behind.
In math, science and engineering you have to stay sharp-- you do that in the military-- but hitch- hiking around Europe will just make you soft and hedonistic

Check out the military to fill the gap


Posted by One size does not fit all
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I have 2 daughters. Both have taken a year off during their college careers. Neither of them spiraled downhill as a result, but your mileage my vary, no two children are alike.


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