NT hosts country’s largest annual Gap Year Fair

Event featured 55 vendors and panel of past student participants



Over 500 students attended to learn about the variety, affordability, and benefits of taking a gap year

Senior Nicki Montenegro attended the twelfth annual New Trier Gap Year Fair on Jan. 26 to search for programs to participate in during the second semester of her gap year.

She is already planning on traveling to Patagonia with The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) for her first semester.
Montenegro has been considering taking a gap year since junior year. She saw the fair as an opportunity not only to find an additional gap year semester program, but also to talk to the representatives of NOLS.

The fair was organized by the U.S. Gap Year Fairs, and although there are 42 Gap Year Fairs hosted around the country, New Trier’s fair is the largest.

Post High School Counselor Gretchen Stauder coordinated the event.

“It gives students time to reflect, do something different, explore something they have always wanted to explore. I would say, it’s important for students to realize, and families, that not all gap year programs cost a lot of money, you can create your own,” said Stauder.

The fair attracted approximately 500 students from across Illinois and 55 global vendors. The vendors offer a variety of programs such as service trips, sailing around the world, language immersion, and much more.

With the various programs available for gap year, there is something interesting, beneficial, and affordable for every student.
“There were countless organizations giving presentations on their summer and gap year options. Each presentation was really informative and gave me a better understanding of what I’m looking for in a program,” said Montenegro.

After attending the fair, junior Katherine Connolly is interested in French immersion programs offered by two vendors, Education First and The Council on International Educational Exchange.

“It was definitely helpful, because it shows you a bunch of possibilities that you didn’t really know existed,” said Connolly.
Sophomore Beth Morton attended the fair after hearing about it in her advisory.

Although Morton said she may not take a gap year, she was happy to learn about available summer programs, like the health initiatives in Dominican Republic and Costa Rica through Global Leadership Adventures.

“I think [the fair] was helpful because you got to speak to people who actually ran the business, instead of hearing it from other people, or having to research it on the internet,” Morton said.

The fair also had a panel of past participants and counselors to share their experiences. 2017 alumnus and University of Chicago freshman Vicky Berman was one of the panelists.

Berman spent one semester backpacking in Southeast Asia, and the next semester she spent time in Chili, Patagonia, and Cuba, both programs offered by ARCC Adventures Cross-Country.

“[The gap year] made me more independent, more creative, and more confident. It made me much more comfortable and adaptable to situations than I was before,” said Berman.

One of the draws for those considering gap year are the benefits not just from a personal standpoint but an educational one as well.
“Studies have shown that the retention rate is higher, [previous gap year participants] are happier, and their grades are stronger—not just their freshman year but by the time they graduate,” said Stauder.

Colleges also see the benefits of students taking a gap year, with some colleges offering programs and scholarships.

“It helps students, it helps colleges, it helps everyone, it helps the world,” said Stauder

The students who attended the gap fair felt that more of their classmates should consider taking a gap year.

“It’s so easy to get stuck in the typical routine of a New Trier student; go to high school, get good grades, get into a good college, get a good job, and the option of a gap year is highly underrated,” said Montenegro.

New Trier students often attend college directly after graduation, with approximately 98% of the class enrolled in college after senior year. Only an average 1.5% students at New Trier take a gap year.

“I think where we come from, there is [a stigma]. The normal path is just to go to college, and I don’t think that is a bad path, but it’s not the only path. I was very hesitant to take one, but looking back it was the best year of my life,” said Berman.