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Mind the Gap Year

By Jen Scott Curwood

You may want to tell your high school graduates on the fast track to college to slow down. Tell them to take, say, a year off. Not only will it help prevent burnout, but college admissions officers seem to be smiling upon kids who take a “gap year” in order to work, volunteer, or travel.

Matt McGann, associate director of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that students who take a year off before college enter their freshman year with a broader worldview and a better perspective on what they hope to accomplish.  Although incoming students can defer admission for one year, McGann estimates that just one to two percent do so. “That’s still relatively low,” he says. “We’re hoping to make gap years part of the culture so that students see it as a real option.”

School districts can offer support for students interested in taking the time off. The Brighton Central School District in Rochester, New York, hosts an annual event for students and their parents called “Stepping off the Conveyer Belt to College.”

Roseann Kraus, director of the Brighton Parent Resource Center, knows firsthand how beneficial gap years can be. She and her daughter Sydney worked with the Center of Interim Programs to plan Sydney’s gap year studying Spanish in Costa Rica and then volunteering in Nicaragua.  

McGann also encourages schools to promote “revenue neutral” options such as an international exchange through Rotary clubs or volunteering with AmeriCorps.

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