Is Taking a Gap Year Worth Graduating Late?

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In short, YES. Gap Years can kickstart motivation, teach valuable life skills, hone resumes into killer shape, and open doors to future opportunities. And believe it or not, Gap Year students may actually graduate a year ahead of time.

Did you know that many teenagers in other countries wait a year after high school before heading to college? In Norway, Denmark and Turkey, for instance, more than 50 percent of students take a year off before college, according to the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education in Oslo, Norway. (USA Today)

So what makes the Gap Year such a popular trend in countries which greatly value higher education? While Gap Years may look like a delay in starting your “real” life, the stats show us that a Gap Year can effectively jumpstart a successful college transition and future career.

Gap Years Boost Resumes & Applications

One of the most common complaints Gap Year advisors hear from parents is that “we saved for four years, not for five.” The cost of a Gap Year can be a huge concern for parents who are staring down four years of rising college costs. However, Gap Years can actually save parents money in the long run. As the world becomes increasingly connected, universities and employers are looking for students with international experience. The skills and experiences that students gain while on a Gap Year can work in their favor when applying for scholarships, job opportunities, and grants.

Gap Year – Adulting 101

Over the course of their international year, Gap Year students practice more independent adulthood. The challenge of taking on a Gap Year can teach organizational skills, time management, basic budgeting, safety awareness, and can boost independence and responsibility. When a Gap Year student then transitions to a college setting, the skills they already have can boost them ahead of their peers. Without the distraction of “learning how to be an adult,” students can focus on classes, keep track of their academic schedules, and even pursue internships or job opportunities immediately.

After taking a year to build these skills and connections, it’s going to be easier for students to earn money while at university, thus cutting on-campus costs. As a Gap Year student, be sure to seek out opportunities to build your resume and work experience as you travel, especially if your goal is to be financially independent in university.

Increase Odds of Completing a Degree Program

Take a look at some of the most common benefits students reported (National Alumni Survey) having gained during their Gap Year:
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Many students report returning from their Gap Year with new motivation and personal confidence that can help them to succeed in university. The time abroad allows students to explore new interests, to get in touch with their passions, and to learn that their educations should be self-driven. Taking a 1-year break between high school and university encourages ‘motivation for and interest in study to be renewed.’ [Birch, “The Characteristics of Gap-Year Students and Their Tertiary Academic Outcomes”, Australia, 2007] As a result, Gappers are more likely to return to university and to pick a major that truly suits them. Statistically, we see 9 out of 10 Gap Year students returning to take up college studies within a year.

With a lower risk of dropping out, changing their major, or being bored in a major they dislike, Gap Year students earn noticeably improved grades. According to Bob Clagget, former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, students who took a Gap Year almost always overperformed academically in college, usually to a statistically significant degree. Most importantly, the positive effect of taking a Gap Year was demonstrated to endure over all four years.

With this boost in personal motivation and GPA, it’s not uncommon for Gappers to complete their time at college a year early. But even if the student does not graduate faster than the average four years, after taking a Gap Year they will automatically have a better chance of actually completing university to begin with.
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Gappers Build A Successful Future

Ideally, a Gap Year allows students to discover their dream calling and to start down the path towards a future they care about. Students who have taken a Gap Year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs. Students need time to get to know themselves and to take charge of their own decision-making process. Given the chance, Gappers will explore new interests, create valuable experiences for themselves, and ultimately work towards a meaningful future career. Without that time, it’s not uncommon for students to land in a degree program which leads to a career path they have no real interest in. If one year of international travel could save you 5+ years of tedium, wouldn’t you want to leave tomorrow?

Combating Gap Year Costs

Gap Year costs can be easily combated with a little effort on the student’s part. Gappers, take the time to seek out and apply for scholarships and grants. With the Gap Year movement growing rapidly, many organizations are working hard to provide financial assistance to those who need it, with the goal of providing Gap Year access to every student.

Starting the adventure from within the safety of a structured program that is accredited is another great way to save money and avoid costly early hassles and emergencies. Check out our list of accredited programs to find high quality programs that cater to your individual goals.

After participating in a group program or two, save money by switching to solo budget travel. Travel to destinations like Central or South America, where living costs may be cheaper than staying in an apartment back home. Take a look at work-abroad opportunities, where students trade a few hours of work each day for room and board. These are a great way to learn new skills and gain experience that can boost resumes and jumpstart a future career!

Finally, have a plan! Your Gap Year will help you forward only if you’re intentional with your time. If you’re actively planning to find motivation, to take on projects that will help you into internships and opportunities down the road, and to be working towards your college path, you’ll find that a Gap Year can help students get through uni faster than ever.

Don’t Forget:

Life is not a race to the finish line. Don’t think of a Gap Year as a delay in your “real” life. You are building your real life right now, every single day. Are you building a life that excites you? Are you pursuing a future that inspires you? If not, perhaps it’s time to take a Gap Year, explore what the world has to offer, and jumpstart the life you want to be living!

TL;DR

Taking a Gap Year can save students (and parents) time and money down the road. Thanks to the newfound skills, motivation, and self-knowledge that students gain during a Gap Year, the college process can become cheaper and easier. Here are a few ways a

Gap Year can equip students for accelerated college success:

International experience boosts resumes and applications, both for job opportunities and potential scholarships.

“Adulting” skills learned on the road ease the Gap-college transition, allowing students to focus on their studies.

9/10 Gappers return to university within a year. The motivation and skills aquired during their Gap Year greatly improve their odds of staying within one degree program and completing it. Some may even earn their degree in only 3 years.

Gappers report higher levels of job satisfaction after college.

Gap Year costs can be combated by applying for scholarships, earning money during the trip, and pursuing budget travel to cheap destinations.

Advice for Parents from Gap Year Parents

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As a Gap Year counselor, I work closely with students to design meaningful plans for their time out. More often than not, a student’s parents are also by their side to encourage and inspire the planning process. Parents of gappers see the value in travel and experiential learning but also want to make sure their child will be safe on their Gap Year. If you are currently helping your child through the planning process, consider these tips from seasoned Gap Year parents who have been there!

1. Start Thinking About a Gap Year Early

In my experience, the sooner a student starts brainstorming their Gap Year plans, the more deliberate the ultimate itinerary turns out to be. Gap Year parent Jane suggests, ”Try to get started on the exploration of opportunities early in the process and be open-minded. A variety of experiences is valuable…these kids are still young – why not take advantage of a few opportunities?”

An excellent entry point to Gap Year research is visiting a Gap Year fair or starting to look at AGA accredited opportunities online.

2. Good Communication is Essential

Start planning by getting everyone on the same page. Gap Year parent Debra offers this advice: “Take both your child’s and your wants and desires into consideration. As parents, we were not comfortable with some programs, but our advisor was able to find programs that made everyone happy. There are so many programs out there, you can find something that works for every member of the family.”

“It’s all about balance,” explains Diann, whose son planned a Spanish-immersion gap year that took him to Spain and South America. She encourages families to set expectations together regarding accountability and decision-making. It helps for parents to set parameters at the outset of planning and then allow their child the freedom to tackle the decision-making within a framework that’s comfortable for everyone.

3. Research is Key

Planning a gap year is a research undertaking for the student and their family. After her daughter’s Gap Year, Jessica offers, “I think you have to figure out what your goals are and then hang in there until you find the right programs. There are so many choices. It can be overwhelming, but with help you can narrow in on the right ones. I also think it was extremely helpful to speak with the program directors. In one case we decided not to pursue a program that had looked like a good fit from their materials.”

4. Ensure Your Child Has Skin in the Game

“Travel AND work,” says Hilary, who watched her son save money to travel to Asia and Belize. “Make sure the student earns something to help pay for at least some of the experience.” Students can save for their gap time in a variety of ways, including crowd-funding, working or leveraging a special skill. Wendy’s daughter knitted scarves for three months to fund a trip to Thailand. She believes the experience was fantastic for her daughter, including the fact that she earned the experience. “The three months in Thailand was a life changer for my daughter,” Wendy says. “It showed her that she was strong and resilient, that the world is full of kind people… She met lots of people from many different countries and made some lasting friendships.”

5. Help Your Child Mentally and Physically Prepare for Their Travels

Preparing for a Gap Year is a delicate balance of preparation and learning to roll with the inevitable bumps in the road. Perrin’s son spent much of his Gap Year traveling independently in Argentina. She thinks it’s important for fellow parents to realize, “Nothing is ever going to be exactly what you anticipate – but it will all be a great experience.”
Other parents urge successors to, “Apply for a South African visa asap,” or “Don’t forget the vaccinations!” In other words, create a check-list of the things that need to happen in the months leading up to departure. The physical tasks of preparing for a trip have the added benefit of mentally preparing a student for leaving.

6. Step Back and Let the Magic Happen

It’s hard to watch your child struggle on their Gap Year, but allowing your child to problem solve is all part of the experience. Gap Year parent Betsy explains, “Let your child get into and out of her/his own trouble. [Gaining] confidence that they can survive travel misfortunes is part of the beauty of a gap year.”

Genevieve feels the same way: “Parents need to let their kids go…I didn’t hear from my son during the time he was living in his Fijian village, but I thought it was important to let him have the space and make his own way.”

7. Witness the Evolution

We love hearing from parents about the changes they witness in their own children over the course of a Gap Year. Here are some highlights from recent parents of Gap Year students:

“She is more responsible at taking care of her affairs…managing travel, money and logistics. She is more empathetic, and sincerely appreciates the opportunities she’s had in her life.”

“[My daughter] has a deeper sense of calm and maturity after this past year. She developed an even better sense of herself and it appears to have given the time to reflect and further define her own personal value system. She also has a ‘lightness of being’ that I would ascertain comes with the observations she made on her own humanity relative to our earth and how other people live. She has developed a serious desire to have impact which I am sure will redirect her life path from here forward.”

“He knows now that the world is big and diverse. It’s not so abstract anymore. He jumped out of his comfort zone and came to know himself better–and to experience a confidence in his ability to navigate life.”

“This experience was life changing for [my daughter]. She left as a recent high school graduate who waited to be told what to do and returned as a young woman who is confident in her abilities like never before. It helped her find her passion for teaching, for travel and for meeting people of all walks of life.”

8. Parting Words

Perhaps Gap Year parent Ann says it best: “You will never regret giving your child this opportunity.”

Julia Rogers is the Founder of EnRoute Consulting, a firm dedicated to providing mentorship and logistical support for young people who take gap years before or during college. Over the past ten years, Julia has become an expert in her field by advising hundreds of students, as well as personally visiting gap year programs in over twenty countries. She works with high schools, colleges, service-learning organizations, non-profits, government entities and families to further experiential education and ethical travel.

Building Gap Year Skills Before You Go

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Most students think that their Gap Year starts the day they board their flight. In reality, your Gap
Year starts the day you commit to taking it. From there on, the entire planning process is a skill-
building opportunity that regularly pushes Gappers out of their comfort zones. For perhaps the
first time in your life, you’ll be managing a budget, researching destinations, signing up for Gap
Year programs, and sorting out the minor details of the adventure ahead. It’s a lot to process,
isn’t it?

To get the most out of a Gap Year, you’ll want to start establishing travel skills and challenging
yourself before even leaving home. Create the ultimate adventure and build confidence in your
skills by doing the following:

Take Charge!

This is YOUR Gap Year. Not your bestie’s, not a Gap Year organizer’s, and not your mom’s. It is
the responsibility of each student to personalize their own trip to fit their goals. Only you can know
exactly what kind of Gap Year would work best for you, so it should be up to you to mastermind
the adventure.

Would you rather work with wildlife in Africa or volunteer as a teacher in South
Korea? What jobs are available locally to help you get started with funding? Gappers who take
charge of their own planning process and savings will get so much more out of their Gap Year.

Planning your own adventure can:

  • Boost excitement and inspiration for the adventures ahead
  • Improve personal awareness of the next step in your planning process
  • Increase your confidence and independence
  • Allow for a flexible schedule… plan what you want to do, when you want to do it
  • Teach financial management skills

When students take charge of planning and funding their own Gap Year, it becomes truly theirs.
After months of hard work and research, this gap year is your baby. There’s a feeling of
tremendous success and accomplishment that comes with pulling off your first big adventure.

Go on a “Test-Run”

Never traveled before, or only traveled with family, or in a group? Think about taking a test run
before the main event. Test out your travel and planning skills with a weekend trip away. Trust me, there’s no better way to find the kinks in your planning system than to put them to the test!

  • Does your backpack work?
  • Have you packed a dozen things you’ll never actually use?
  • Can you read a map and navigate a bus transfer?
  • Do your shoes work, or will you need to buy a new pair?

A test run is a safe and easy way to gain confidence, find the flaws in your gear, and to
challenge yourself while home is still close by. Keep track of any fails or problems you discover
along the way and find solutions before your big take-off date.

Set Monthly Personal Growth Goals

Ideally, Gappers set themselves a series of goals – some help with planning the actual details of
the Gap Year, others encourage personal confidence-building as the departure date grows
closer. Setting these goals requires quite a bit of introspection, so set aside time to think about
what you want to get out of your time abroad and what you want to know before you get started.

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What do you most want to accomplish over the next year?
  • Take it a step farther: how can you start today?
  • What can you do now to push yourself out of your comfort zone and find your feet?
  • What makes you nervous about your upcoming Gap Year?

In all likelihood, there’s a way to challenge those fears before leaving home.

Afraid of navigating transit? Take day trips alone or with a friend.

Worried about the language barrier? Start taking classes with Duolingo or a local language
center.

Scared of culture shock? Learn as much about the culture as possible before leaving.

Learn Some Gap Year Safety Basics

There’s nothing like some basic safety knowledge to take away fear of the unknown and boost
the overall success of a Gap Year! Did you know that international travel is far safer than the
naysayers would have you believe? Well planned Gap years are relatively low in risk and high in potential benefits. For
more info, check out our Data & Benefits page.

According to the stats, travel outside of the US is generally quite safe. Even so, it’s a good idea to have some safety knowledge under your belt:

Communication! Stay in touch with family and friends, let people know your plans, and know
emergency phone numbers.

Health insurance! Invest in good travel health insurance and know the medical situation in your
destination country.

Plan your accommodation in advance by at least a day or two. Avoid arriving at night without
booked accommodation.

Stay away from any protests or demonstrations. In some countries, it’s illegal for you to
participate or even watch.

Know basic first aid, even if your Gap Year won’t be international.

Avoid binge-drinking and drugs. A party year isn’t a Gap Year.

Keep track of your passport and documents. Make copies, in case something goes missing.

Want to learn more Gap Year safety hacks? We have just the post for you.

Prepare Yourself With Realistic Expectations

Gap Years aren’t always a walk in the park. Prep yourself for an upcoming Gap Year by reading
everything out there on your destination, the experiences of other Gappers, the program(s)
you’ve signed up for, and more. Understand that homesick days are inevitable and that a Gap
Year is a challenge, not a vacation. Just understanding this can help Gappers find their courage
in hard times and push through to reap the benefits of an amazing year. Trust me, it will be
worth the work.

Last but not least, never give up!

Set goals and knock them out, dream big, and watch as all of the hard work pays off. You absolutely can do this.

Parents: How to Help

So how do you encourage your Gap Year student? Keep in mind that this is your kid’s Gap Year, not yours.

The best way to be supportive of their adventure is to be interested and positive about their progress, but NOT to take charge. Don’t helicopter.

Students get the most out of their Gap Years when they’re the ones to plan, self- motivate, and fund the year. Encourage your teen to plan a gap year itinerary that will further their educational and personal goals. Talk to them about their ideas and their passions, encourage problem-solving instead of providing solutions to challenges.

Finally, encourage your Gapper to fund their future adventure themselves, even if you could help significantly. Gap Year
students who fund their own time abroad learn valuable skills that will help them into adulthood.

Essentially, your job now is to facilitate learning, from the sidelines! Hand over the reins, provide
encouragement, but be insistent that this Gap Year be their baby, not yours.

More tips on Gap Year parenting.

New Videos to Build Financial Literacy for Gap Year Students

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Gap Years are all about skill building. During an educational “year on” students have the opportunity to put boots to the book knowledge they’ve been accruing over 12 years of formal schooling. One of the big points of skill building and real world learning that surface during the planning and execution of a Gap Year is financial literacy and skill building. All of a sudden, students who have been under the umbrella of parents find themselves responsible for saving a large amount of money and figuring out how to spend that wisely.

If you are a student working to get your head around the financial aspects of your Gap Year and adulthood, or an adult who works with young people in the transition of emerging adulthood, this is for you!

As a new tool in the toolkit for bridging the gap between financial dependence and independence, the team at Steve Buhaly’s Money Tips has put together a YouTube channel as part of an educational, not-for-profit endeavor to raise awareness on financial literacy and empowerment for young adults, primarily college students or recent grads.

The videos cover topics like savings, debt, and investing basics (and they’re currently working on a few others that include job hunting, interviewing, negotiating, and more in-depth coverage on investing). The next topic, on investing basics, should be released very soon.

These videos are free for public use, and have no advertisements. Below, is the first release topic on savings.

If you know of any young people or organizations that would benefit from using these videos, please feel free to share them. The primary purpose in circulating this content is to help educate young adults on how they can secure a healthy financial future in an entertaining and engaging way.

Follow them on Facebook and
Youtube.

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