Gap Year...Not the Best Idea
By: Archie Wortham

“Once you have your education, no one can take it away from you,” was a mantra that got me to college as soon as I could.

There was no gap-year. I didn’t take time to find myself. For those who say they need to find themselves I ask, where have you been or how did you get lost and who's going to pay the finder's fee?

According to Social Media editor, Macca Sherifi, in July 2005, Mintel, the world’s leading market intelligence agency indicated the ‘culturally created’ gap-year brought in five billion pounds a year. Mintel identified the gap-year as one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry. As opposed to going to college, more and more high-schoolers full of angst and genetic materialism feel this cultural and social revolution of the 60s is a rite of passage.

Things have changed since I graduated. Years ago, the only reason we took time off from college was so we could work to afford college. We graduated in four years, not six, worked during the summer, and found a job before we found ourselves.
More common in Europe, the practice of taking a "year off" still remains the exception in United States, but is gaining in popularity. Case in point, Malia, the president’s daughter is among them. Many colleges encourage students to take time off; having have even built gap year-like programs into the curriculum. Several high schools have counselors specifically for students interested in taking a gap year. In many situations without even finding out parental plans.

According to statistics compiled by the American Gap Association, the prevailing reasons for the increased popularity are feelings of being burned out of classroom education and a desire to understand oneself better. In 2013, some 40,000 Americans participated in sabbatical programs, an increase of almost 20% since 2006. Universities such as New York University, Amherst, Princeton, Harvard and MIT have formal policies allowing students to defer admission.

As some formal gap year programs can cost as much as $30,000, AmeriCorps’ has a program that offers 18-24 year olds an all-expense paid gap year (room & board, meals, transportation, etc.) in exchange for a 10-month commitment to National and Community service. Now there is some bite in that idea—giving back! AmeriCorps members travel the country in diverse teams and perform a variety of tasks such as rebuilding trails in national parks, responding to natural disasters or working as mentors for disadvantaged youth.

While not a fan of the ‘gap-year,’ I’ve always been an advocate for teaching our young the value of volunteering and giving back. If it were me, we would have a mandatory volunteer program for all high school graduates before college. That’s my gap year. It would not be selective or depend on where you live or went to school or an opportunity to find yourself. You’d give back! And then go to college.
Students should never lose sight of the prize. Parents need to be sure they are involved in the gap-year conversation. Teachers? With graduation, your job should be done. Students? You are only lost if you don’t know where you are and if by the time you graduate you don’t know that, backpacking with a cash card is not the answer.