In recent years, taking a gap year between high school and college has become increasingly popular among students. A European tradition spreads to the US.
For years, there was one norm for graduated high school seniors: spend the summer after graduation having fun, and then go off to start four years of college in the fall. But the newest high school generation has a new idea; some of the students have decided that taking a year between their final year of high school and their inaugural year of college to pursue other passions is in their best interests. And they could be right.
Taking a gap year has been proven to have a slew of benefits. According to the American Gap Association, students who take a gap year will have higher grade point averages in college. Additionally, a survey that the AGA ran showed that almost 100 percent of students who took a gap year said that it helped them develop as a person, increased their maturity, and increased their self confidence.
Generally, the trend in gap years has risen in the years since 2007. This is the same year that the USA Gap Year Fairs were founded by Dynamo Internship Year, a United States gap year program. The fairs were aimed at raising awareness for gap years and informing students of programs for gap years.
Although they may have started this way, gap years are no longer for students to just relax at home, maybe working, or maybe just laying on the couch. Gap years are now opportunities for students to be involved with a number of different programs.
Even though going straight to college after senior year may still be the norm at Saint Thomas Aquinas, one student is taking a different path. Senior Wesley Weissend plans to take a gap year to pursue a year in a program after his graduation.
“My dad had told me about the organization [National Outdoor Leadership School] a long time ago and I looked into during one of their classic month long courses in the summer,” Weissend said. His original plan was just to do a program in the summer before his freshman year of college.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) offers programs for varying amounts of time, ranging from one month to one “year,” which actually spans 185 days. The NOLS describes their mission as “to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.” The goal of their programs is to teach their students about wilderness, education, leadership, safety, community, and excellence, and give them the devices to be able to lead their own expeditions in the world.
“While deciding what course I wanted to do, I came across their Year in Patagonia course,” Weissend said. “I hadn’t really thought about taking a gap year before finding the Year in Patagonia, but after, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.”
The program will take place in NOLS Patagonia, which is in the Aysen Region of Chile. It is a working farm that is near the city of Coyhaique. The program offers to teach the students are wide variety of skills, including wilderness medicine, sea kayaking, and rock climbing. The program also professes to have a strong focus in the Spanish language and cultural interaction.
“After I get back, I am going to try to use the skills I will learn on the trip to lead backpacking and/or hiking trips or maybe as a park ranger for the National Park Service,” Weissend said.
The program also offers optional credit hours to both college and high school students. College students are offered 27 hours, including two biology hours and four leadership techniques hours. Weissend plans on taking the credit hours.
Although sometimes parents can be weary of students taking a gap year, Weissend’s parents had no fear. “Both of my parents traveled before, during, and after college and had amazing experiences, so they were totally supportive of me traveling,” Weissend said.
Most parents that are against gap years are usually afraid that their student won’t ever go to college. On the contrary, statistics show that nine out of ten students start college after their gap year. Weissend plans to go to college the semester after he gets back, in the fall of 2017.
“I have talked with a lot of people in and out of college who really regret not taking a year after high school to do something they love, so that solidified my want to go on the Year in Patagonia course,” Weissend said. “I came to the realization that I might not have the opportunity to do such an incredible adventure again in my life, so I might as well take the opportunity now.”