Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gap Year is New High School Elective

I wanted to share with readers this article on the "gap year" for high school graduates, from the Wall Street Journal. It turns out that colleges are encouraging more and more students to take a year off from school, to travel and get work experience. The time away from intensive study serves as a refresher and a primer on life in the "real world."

What struck me about the article is how the gap year seems, frankly, like a privilege of the affluent, and that was just after reading the introduction:

Like many motivated, focused high-school students, Lillian Kivel had worked hard academically and in community service in hopes that her efforts would win her acceptance into a good college. It did. Trouble was, Ms. Kivel's focus was much less clear when she had to decide which college to attend -- the Boston-area senior had applied to 38 schools because her interests were so varied.

At the suggestion of friends, Ms. Kivel decided to take a gap year -- a year outside of academia between high-school graduation and college matriculation. It wasn't rest and relaxation that Ms. Kivel sought, but rather an opportunity to gain life experience and focus her goals. Gappers, as they're called, typically feel that taking a year off will give them a head start in college -- and life. "I [have] the opportunity to explore my interests, like medicine and China, outside the classroom," she says.

Ms. Kivel eventually decided to attend Harvard College, but deferred entrance until fall 2009. Ms. Kivel lived at home this fall and interned at the Boston branch of Partners of Health, a global health outreach nonprofit. She's also serving as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse. And she's auditing at anthropology class at Harvard.

To fill her spring months, Ms. Kivel turned to gap-year consultant Holly Bull, president of Interim Programs, to help her sift through more than 100 different programs in China. Ms. Kivel will live with a host family in Shanghai, study Chinese language, history and culture in a classroom setting, and teach English to children. "I have gained so much by ... becoming more responsible and independent [and] exploring my interests," Ms. Kivel says.
Ms. Kivel's example is probably pretty typical for ambitious and enterprising middle class kids. I would expect my oldest son, who is now in 7th grade, to be seeking counseling on his college choices when he gets to that point, not the least of which from myself.

But actually I thought of my students at my college. Community college is so diverse, economically as well as ethnically. The idea of being accepted to an elite East Coast university, and have the chance to postpone matriculation for a year for the opportunity to travel to China, is an extreme luxury at minumum for the majority of students who attend my classes.

Ms. Kivel is expected to spend $12,000 to fund the Shanghai semester, which she'll finance from her earnings and from her parents' contributions. The article notes that financial aid and scholarships are available for gap year opportunities, but the process of research and applying for these resources is "daunting." That alone would be an impediment to the typical student body constituency of community colleges. Just reading a class schedule and navigating the college bureaucracy has been identified as a barrier to advancement at the two-year level, and research has shown, in fact, that proprietary colleges like the University of Phoenix have a better record of providing resources and tracking to keep kids on pace toward educational goals.

In any case, the gap year sounds likes a great opportunity for kids to spread their wings a bit before hitting the halls of the university. As always, I'm just thinking about how we can shift the culture among the disadvantaged (kids and parents) so they'll be able to pursue opportunities like this as well (and more "social spending" is not necessarily the answer).


Obob said...

This can go either way. From personal experience, I needed to get out of dodge after high school. All of my friends did some form of residence in a correctional facility. I may have run with the devil for a stretch, but I knew when to leave.
But then I look at my immaturity then and wonder what if I had sat out. It may have helped, but I would never have made the personal contacts I value today.
For today's students it may be easier to provide advice. There are classes to take online and less pressure to get a degree in the traditional sense with advent of the computer age. But it comes down to money and the ability to maintain a responsible fiscal plan to make sure money stays for academic needs and not spent on a new car or other frivolous items.

Anonymous said...

Better yet, blow off college altogether. The only people who should go are those who need the certification or degree for the field which they intend to enter or those who can afford to waste the time and money. Society cons the young into thinking they need college to succeed. Libraries lend books for free.

AmPowerBlog said...

Anonymous: Log into and create a blog so you can comment by name.

I don't accept anonymous comments, but I'll let this one stay up, and uninformed as it is.

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks Philippe. Happy New Year to you!

cracker said...

Join the Service.!

This was my path....and it was extremely successful.

Stationed Stateside and the S. Korea.

Got discipline, extreme pride, and ownership of self confidence one achieves when serving! AND got to experience foreign cultures and gain deeper understandings of how the world works and hw others live and work.. (if anyone is ex-military on this blog, I'm sure they'll enthusiastically agree)


after ETS (departure) I attended UNCC , got two degrees. Paid FOR! !Yes I did it myself!

Yes, there,s a War going On, but if you take the time to see whats offered, there's something for your brimming grad.

Heck, if anyone who contributes or reads American "power" is not HIGHLY recommending the Military choice to the their friends and family

Well.....then....maybe a review of ....ahh forget it

Semper Fi !

AmPowerBlog said...

Cracker: Good job and thanks for supporting the U.S. of A. in our current fights around the world!

cracker said...

No Problem Dr.

It is an honor to dont know how much till your done.

War or No War.

Its a real connection to what the United States is. Service gives you ownership in this land and this experiment.

You realize that it doesnt matter what your buddy's religion is, or politics or union or not, ....its all green, there's a mission, and We;re gonna get it done, down to the last man standing.

We didnt give SH## who likes, dont likes, protests, hold vigils, holds up signs or sleeps in late, back in the world. You learn to appreciate ...reality

We do it for Us. for the mission, the Corp.

You learn, that in life, its a battle wherever you go, no matter how its set up or who's in charge or what spaghetti monster you worship.

a DI once yelled in my ear

"there are no atheists in foxholes!..there's NO preachers or politicians either! Troop! youre in it together! and thats how youre gonna get out of it!

Average American said...

Cracker has a good point, serve the country and then let the country serve you an education.

Here in New Hampshire we have what they call the "alternative access" program. Local community colleges provide transferrable courses which allow students to take their first year of college at home and then transfer to a regular college. The drastic adaption from high school to college life gets broken into two phases that way. A student gets to adapt to college work load the first year and then adapt to the freedom which accompanies college living the second year. It worked great for both of my kids. They both graduated with degrees, which I was never able to do. I partied my first year away and then decided to let Uncle Sam pay, after my stint in the Army. Problem was, I never went back.

Have a prosperous New Year!

Shane said...

Gap Year work could also be defined as volunteering abroad, or to work abroad. Though the program is not typically paid like the regular employee since it is only voluntary, however the sacrifices and the experiences that you can get from it cannot be paid by money. If you try to figure out helping those less fortunate people in the best of your ability, you will realized at the end that everything you have done is worthy and self-fulfilling.