Gap Year Fair gives students alternative options

Some seniors consider taking a gap year before attending college

Mimi Cassato

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The annual Gap Fair took place on Jan. 28 at New Trier High School giving seniors the chance to explore alternative post high school plans.

For students like Mia Solberg, Colin Richards, and Sophie Chevalier, taking a gap year was the perfect opportunity for a challenging experience before jumping into college.

According to Gap Year coordinator Gretchen Stauder, 95 percent of New Trier seniors will go off to four years of college.

This includes the 16 graduates from 2016 who chose to take a gap year.

“More people are considering it as an option,” Stauder explained. And not only at New Trier.  At MIT there were double the amount of gap year students from 2009 – 2010.

Although taking a gap year does not always pop into everyone’s mind while meeting with their post high school advisor, when Mrs. Thorngren mentioned the idea to Solberg (who graduated in 2016), it seemed to be the perfect fit.

“I instantly fell in love and started researching the idea more. The difficult part was making a decision on which program to sign up for considering there are endless opportunities offered for gap years,” Solberg said.

She ended up traveling first semester to Patagonia with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) program, one of the 53 programs presented at this year’s fair.

Richards’ gap year was more local than Solberg’s, and was spent working at the Wilmette Harbor along with an internship at a new technology company in Chicago.

Like Solberg and Chevalier, Richards was accepted into many universities, but realized staying home and saving money would make the most sense.

“I couldn’t decide the direction I wanted to go once at school. I decided to stay at home and work full time, earning money and gaining life experience,” Richards explained.

Stauder acknowledged the fact that many parents worry their kids will not return to school after their gap year, however, “studies show they preform much better” and receive higher GPAs, according to a study at Middlebury College.

As for returning to school, Stauder adds that almost all gap year students return after only one year or semester.

In fact, Richards is currently at the University of Vermont, Solberg will be attending Colorado College this fall, and Chevalier heads to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The other large academic advantage that Solberg, Richards, and Chevalier received was clarity on their majors. All three said they didn’t  exactly what they wanted to pursue in college, but their time off gave them more guidance to their passions.

“A large portion of these students enter college without having a clue of what they want to do, which is perfectly fine, but why not give them a chance to experience the world.

before they have to decide how they want to partake in it,” said Chevalier, who traveled to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.

Solberg agreed with the importance of learning more about oneself before ‘committing to a major.’

In addition to the academic guidance their gap years provided, all three felt passionate on the social benefits gained as well.

“I’ve made some of my best friends during this year.  I have so many connections across the globe now which is really special,” Chevalier explained.

Richards also commented on the friendships he’s made at work, and Solberg is even planning a trip to Europe with one of her NOLS friends.

What was most evident to these students was the change they saw in themselves during and after their time off.

Richards explained, “[what] I see in myself after my gap year is that I approach life in a much more mature and methodical manner.”

Stauder commented that a gap year gives students time to reflect and changes their perspective.  “Eventually, when they do go on, they have a deeper level of insight.”

Although Solberg and Richards described themselves as eager to follow the different path of a gap year, Chevalier recognized that her initial fears turned into gratitude,

“There’s no better time in life to do this and college is still going to be there for you after.”

Although all three students have plans to attend college, their passion for traveling continues, as Solberg said, “I don’t like to make many plans for the future. [It’s] more fun to see where life takes me.”

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