Mind the gap… year

Students choose gap year to pursue a unique experience

While many of New Trier’s seniors are thinking about the college they will be attending next year, more than a handful of seniors are excited not to be going to college. Not right away, anyway.

Gap year continues to gain popularity as a viable option for high school seniors across the country.

Students who decide to take a gap year often apply to college and defer their acceptance for a year while they pursue an experience that includes volunteering, working, or travel.

In 2016, for example, Malia Obama decided to go on a gap year before attending Harvard. Obama reportedly spent most of the year on an extended trip to Peru and Bolivia through a company called Where There Be Dragons.

“A gap year, different from a year off, is after students graduate from high school and before they go to college,” said Gretchen Stauder, Post High School Counselor and Gap Fair coordinator.

Various programs and plans fit under the umbrella of a gap year because, as Stauder explained, “Colleges want to see students making choices and being productive with their time, although it doesn’t have to be structured.”

While no official statistics track participation in gap year programs, the Associated Press reports that 30,000 to 40,000 students take part each year. In 2015, there was a 22 percent increase in students taking gap years over the previous year, according to surveys taken by the American Gap Association.

Senior Maria von Kunhardt is one of about ten students in the senior class participating in a gap year. She is planning on being an Au Pair in France, “not through a program, but using personal connections to hopefully find a family to work for and with.”

Von Kunhardt chose her location because she wants to brush up on her French and see the country. She is originally from Germany. “In Europe it is much more common to travel the first year after graduating,” she explained.

Since she doesn’t know what she wants to do in college, von Kunhardt hopes the coming year will give her time to think about her future plans.

After her gap year in France, von Kunhardt plans to move back to Germany and study at a university there. Specifically, she said, “I’m hoping to get into an acting school and perhaps pursue my passion for film and stage acting there.”

According to Stauder, “Colleges are beginning to recognize the value of these programs because the students who take a gap year are more engaged, their grades and retention rate are higher, they contribute more to the community. It’s a win-win for everyone. It just has to be the right thing.”

Senior Asher Hoffman will participate in a Young Judaea Year Course run by a pluralistic Zionist youth group next year.

“I’m looking forward to getting more in tune with the culture of Israel and volunteering with Magen David Adom, which is Israel’s ambulance service,” said Hoffman. The program also includes a week long hike from sea to sea. After his gap year, Hoffman plans to attend Colorado State University.

With a wide variety of programs to choose from, the Post High School Counseling office recommends that students consider the length, location, price range, structure, and overall goal. Stauder broke down the general goal of a potential gap year into categories of service, travel, learning, experiencing something new, and taking a break.

Von Kunhardt said, “I’m looking forward to just having this whole time to myself. Especially being in another country will give me the opportunity to be on my own, see the culture for myself and just be more independent as a whole.”

The feedback in recent years from each independent experience has been very positive. Stauder said, “More often than not, students are transformed by the experience, regardless of what they do.”