Any experience in gap years?

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Registered: 05-13-1998
Any experience in gap years?
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Tue, 01-22-2013 - 2:07pm

DD 15 is looking at all her post high-school options. DD will be applying to universities in the fall but one thing that we've also discussed is the possibility of a gap year. Personally, I think gap years can be beneficial. In DD's particular case, she'll be a young 17 when graduating high school and will have about 3 semesters worth of college units completed. Taking the year won't "put her behind" but could give her a needed "slow down" as she explores a kindled interest in history, political science and law (enough interest that she's considering pulling away from theatre as a career option.... and as many of you know, almost everything DD hasdone to date has been in pursuit of a theatre related goal.... so this is big for her.) I know she'd be interested in some non-theatre internships but not a ton of quality options at the high school level.

My question isn't in the value of the gap year but in the planning of it. How have your children or friend's children planned and managed their gap years? We're witnessing 2 right know... one very successful and has deferred enrollment to a university of choice, the other I think is just being called a gap year because they don't want to say they have no idea what they are doing lol. All the other kids committed to either community or 4-year right off the bat.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2001
Wed, 01-23-2013 - 10:08am

A friend and her daughter are planning for a gap year next year.  She will be being a "nanny" for a family she knows out west, but that will only be for part of the year.  The goal is to make money for travel and to figure out her next step.  Other than that, most of the kids I know have gone straight into college or have ended up working and taking classes at the local community collge before going to a 4-year school. I think internships are tough to find for high school graduates that are not in college, unless you know someone that can help.

Interesting that she is re-thinking acting as a career.  For a girl with so much ability in the classroom and on the stage, she may be very successful at a college with a good drama department, but not in a straight "theater" school where the opportunity to study other things may be quite limited. 

If you haven't, you may wish to check out college confidential and look for gap year info.  It is pretty intense on the college admission front, but lots of knowledgable parents. 

I can't believe she is going to be a senior next year or that my '97 boy will be a junior.  They were so young when we started on this board!

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Wed, 01-23-2013 - 11:24am

I think gap years are great and will urge my D to consider one before starting college.

My niece is in the middle of a gap year.  She is studying, working, and living abroad and I think it's been a fantastic experience for her.  She is in a formal program that costs almost as much as a year of college so not a great option for everyone.  On the other hand, because she is earning college credits this year, she will enter school as a sophomore next year rather than a freshman.   That's  a mixed blessing IMO.  My oldest girl transferred as a sophomore and had a pretty difficult social transition at the new school.  I advised my sister to allow my niece to enter school as a freshman when it's easier to form bonds and settle in.  When it comes to ECs, she will tend to be treated as a freshman/newbie in any event.  If she chooses to graduate earlier, that's always an option.  My dd graduated in 3 years rather than 4.

We know of others who have had successful gap years: one was a nanny abroad and was absolutely beloved by the family.  She is a senior in college now and maintains very close ties with the family and the country.  One did some interning for arts groups in NYC and then spent a semester living abroad.  He is a junior in college right now and had no difficulty jumping in.  One actually worked on publishing a book of interviews she'd collected.  (Mom is a professor/writer with strong connections to the publishing industry, lol).  

Finding the placements depends on how much if anything you or she wants to spend on a program and what sorts of networks she has.  Our high school has a network of parents who offer internships to high school students.   Your dd is an incredibly resourceful kid.  I  bet she will be able to identify what interests her and will be able to develop and create a job/internship for herself.  She might consider contacting government and community offices, local courts,  historical societies, museums, etc. and see if she can craft one or two experiences for herself.   She will likely be able to use her theater experience to find paying jobs to blend with the internships.

I agree that careful use of collegeconfidential can be helpful.  The problem with that site is that it seems that the bulk of the participants are obsessed with prestige and Ivy League colleges.  The obsession manifests itself in the kinds of results you get when you do a broad search for "gap year" there:  the majority of results seem to deal with the worry about how the gap year will appear to prestigious colleges.  I didn't read them through though.  There was one that seemed useful:

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1345068-gap-year-before-college-user-review.html?highlight=gap+year

I also cannot believe that these children are on the verge of adulthood.  I used to be part of the "1997 playgroup" and now we're thinking about post-high school.  It's hard to believe. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
Wed, 01-23-2013 - 12:05pm

I took a gap year, and my eldest dd sort of took a gap year. I think the success and productivity of the gap year depends so much on individual factors that it's really difficult to generalize. In my case I played in an orchestra professionally before embarking on a college degree in music performance, but the approach backfired because my college program paled so much in comparison to my gap-year experience that I was frustrated and uninspired by it. In my daughter's case the need for a gap year was driven by our geographic isolation from the music training that she needed; she finished high school early (except for leaving her senior STEM credits to do by distance education) and took that year to live somewhere that she could try and make up for her lack of violin instruction and orchestral experience. She's still early in her college experience, but the year certainly had the intended effect on her musicianship level, and she's currently thriving in her program. 

I have seen what you describe: students who take a gap year because they're not ready to commit to a particular path, and then without the momentum of school structure they lose whatever ambition they had. I think there's a big difference between "I'm interested in more than one thing and I'd like to explore this or that area more before committing to one path or another," or "I'd like more experience in a particular area before delving into academic study" and "I'm not really interested in anything enough to pursue it, and I'm hoping if I just get some wide-ranging 'life experience' something will inspire me during a year off." The latter situation is much less likely to have its intended effect: at least not in the space of one year. I've seen such young people meander through a succession of experiences and jobs and eventually, after 5 year or more, find a passion and pursue it successfully. But one year isn't typically enough time to grow up, accumulate wisdom and experience and find a vocational calling. 

So in your dd's case I think a gap year could be very successful: she has a number of interests, and would probably benefit from broadening her experience a little before deciding whether or not to commit to theatre track studies. I wonder if she could travel during part of her gap year? If she's interested in politics, law and history, an experience in a non-western nation might be really exciting. 

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

Avatar for turtletime
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Registered: 05-13-1998
Wed, 01-23-2013 - 1:34pm

This is why I love you guys. Rational and helpful responses about what's good for the individual.

Miranda, you were right on about your personal experience with working professionally and then trying to move into a college program. DD tends to minimize her accomplishments. She doesn't recognize how consistant and broad her experiences have been. She's done everything from acting, stage managing, script writing, Shakespeare abridgement, education, marketing, event planning, casting, directing, costume builds, light hangs, producing and all in either professional environments, in educational environments that have professional expectations, or environments she's created for those opportunities. Certainly, she has tons more to learn but if she were to major in theatre, she'd be required to start at the beginning with no doubt, very talented individuals but individuals coming largely from a high school theatre environment.

If she takes a gap year, it would be to experience something else and yes, I agree, some travel outside the country would be valuable. I remember your DD's trip as being spectacular for her. Maybe we can find some sort of opportunity like that.... hmmm.

Another consideration is that by accelerating the full grade and by completing 1.5 years of college while in high school, she'll be pushed to decide a major much earlier than normal. Unit and based on how much general ed she will have completed, she may have to commit to a major before her 18th birthday. We don't regret the grade skip and certainly don't regret the program she's in now that allows her to be in college part-time. It's giving her a happy and fulfilling childhood. However, no doubt, it complicates early adulthood a bit.

Avatar for turtletime
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Registered: 05-13-1998
Wed, 01-23-2013 - 1:46pm

I've been reading that the big benefit to deferred enrollment is that you can qualify for those "college only" internships. You are still attached to the college. Still seen as a college student but you aren't taking classes for the year. Of course, negative, can't take any college classes anywhere else in the mean time but if you are taking the gap, that may be OK. If DD decided on a gap year, I believe it would only be in a deferred enrollement situation (that is, if she gets in to any schools!)

Anyway, It is amazing how fast we got here. I have tiptoed on college confidential but it's so hard to weed through what is real and what is myth (or just obnoxious.) I never know what to trust. I'll check out gap years. See if there is anything of value. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2001
Fri, 01-25-2013 - 10:38am

Regarding college level, it may depend on what she decides to pursue.  I would think she would still be applying as a freshman and not as a student with advance standing (which I guess would be a transfer student)?  I think there are lots of advantages to applying as a freshman as your dd's grades and test scores likely will be very attractive in the freshman class profile and there is usually more opportunities for need-based and merit aid.

The college would then look at her coursework and see what applies in terms of general ed and what to her major.  She may still not have to declare a major until end of sophmore year, even if she ends up graduating in three years.  Not all of the Community college credits may apply depending on the college she chooses and the major.  She could still go to college for all four years, even if she has credits somewhere else as those were earned to fulfill high school.  Of course, having her graduate early is financially great.

As for CC, you will find that while you have to wade through a lot, there is a lot of knowledge out there.  Some of the Parents posters are very willing to share their vast experience in navigating this process.  Others, not so much.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Fri, 01-25-2013 - 11:04am

Some quick and rambling additional thoughts:

1.  I completely forgot about two additional gap year kids we know that Miranda's post brought to mind.  Both are artists.  One of my dd's high school friends took a gap year to attend circus school.  He had been involved in acrobatics and circus schools/performance for years and deferred enrollment at an elite school to pursue acrobatics.  The gap year has turned into something longer.  I'm not sure what his plans are with regard to schooling but I understand he is performing in Canada and has become fairly well known in his art.  This was an extremely bright and extremely talented kid who really wasn't sure which way he wanted to go in life.  My guess is that he is the type of person who will have more than one career in his lifetime.

The second person is a member of our extended family who elected to pursue work with American Ballet Theater rather than continue through school. He is continuing to perform in their company and seems happy.  His mother is more ambivalent and is unsure how her son will return to more traditional schooling.

2.  This has nothing to do with anyone in particular and certainly not Turtletime's dd.  I actually do think that a single year is enough to wake a kid up and help him to focus.  No, of course a single year doesn't transform a person from a unfocused child to an adult with a mission but it can be life-changing.  Living without parental structure and without school structure, with workplace requirements or with the new and untested vistas of an unfamiliar world/language--these are powerful forces.   I think it's quite possible that the gap year is most successful in the case of a kid who hasn't grown up enough to take advantage of the opportunities presented in higher education.  The challenge in that case is to find the right formula for that person and make sure that the year isn't spent drifting.  Travel, work, mastery of a certain subject are all good options, again, depending on the individual.

3.  My dd took time off from college to work on a presidential campaign in the US.  She has peers who have left school altogether to work in the computer software industry.  Youngest dd knows graduates from her high school who have left college to work on startups they've created.  Middle dd took a semester to travel and study abroad while still in high school, something pretty unusual but not unheard of at her school.  There isn't a clear path and there are deviations possible at many different points.  It takes some careful planning but I'm definitely a fan of the crooked path.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Fri, 01-25-2013 - 4:35pm

My daughter has a friend who graduated last year and took a gap year. In the fall of her senior year, she decided not to apply to college right away, but to pursue acting jobs and a day job to pay her bills. She was in several community theatre productions (she also wants a career in musical theatre) and worked, I think, as a cashier during the day. She's now applying to colleges with strong musical theatre programs. I don't think she planned out her gap year the way I would if I were doing one. With her, it was more a case of burnout and uncertainty about the future and she just needed time off to think and to make some money.

I know that most colleges we investigated (DD is a senior in HS so we spent last spring looking at liberal arts colleges on the east and west coasts) look favorably on gap years, especially if they are well-thought out and enrich the applicant in some way. They are very common in Europe and the UK, where most kids do not go to university right away.

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Registered: 05-13-1998
Sat, 01-26-2013 - 10:24am
She will be applying as a freshmen but if she reaches her goal of getting this particular certificate, every state and UC school in the state agrees to accept the block of classes she's taking as completion of lower-division general eds no matter your major (and I guess many private and out-of-state schools have accepted them too.) You are right though, if they don't put a cap on units or require that she choose a major when she hits 60, I guess she could spend her freshmen year taking whatever without stressing about it being productive to a major. Though, finances are a valid reason to finish early in our situation. Oh, and I don't know how good she'll look in the freshman class. Her test scores are high but her 10th grade grades were bad enough that even a semester of straight "A's" in college doesn't bring her weighted GPA to a 4.0. We've seen what is out there when it comes to academic achievement lol. DD's not going to be that top pick for colleges.
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2006
Sat, 01-26-2013 - 2:01pm

My dd19's experience is not typical, but she (as an interest led homeschooler) has been "sitting in" music and art classes in a nearby college since she was 15. So far she has been in jazz band, mariachi, wind ensemble, Drawing 1, Oil 1, and participated in Art Club. This semester she is doing an independent study printmaking class with two beginners and two advanced students. She's also taking piano. Her "safe" option is to enroll in the college, but she'd like to go to art school. In addition to financial constraints (my eldest is still in college), dd19 needs to a) learn to drive and b) bring her math and reading up to snuff so that she doesn't have to take remedial classes, should she attend the local college. (She is good at math but has gaps, and is severely dyslexic.) Anyhow, her opportunity to take classes in which she can do well and has a keen interest one at a time has given her the framework to do very well in those classes and taken the edge off her fear that she will not succeed in college. Deborah

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