Gap year becoming more common among high school, college students

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CHICAGO — More and more high school aged Americans are mulling over the idea of a “gap year.” Increased teenage pressures and a desire to learn more about themselves are the top two reasons students take a year off.

The idea is so popular, gap years in the U.S are up 20 to 30 percent since 2006.

Statistics now show that more than half of college students are graduating from school in six years — so what’s another year on the books?

Experts in the college admissions field say it can be everything, even from the university’s perspective.

With structure and a solid plan, the owners of Riley Baker Educational Consulting, a private college counseling business, said a gap year can be good. The year is typically unpaid following high school graduation or sometimes during those critical college years.

It’s a deliberate step away from the classroom and more boys are opting for a gap year than girls.

With college price tags hovering anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 a year, parents may have their reasons to be in favor of the time off. Why flush money down the toilet if your son or daughter is aimlessly wandering or burned out from the competition on campus?

“I think you can look at the gap year as an investment in your child,” Stacey Riley Baker, Riley Baker Educational Consulting., said. “There’s a much greater pay off.”

Baker said universities all find it appealing.

“I think they see a student who has greater maturity and sense of self,” she said. “I think they come to college renewed.”

Many colleges like Princeton, Brown and Harvard are even promoting a gap year. First Daughter Malia Obama famously opted for one herself before entering Harvard. She is spending her gap working in New York with famous media executive Harvey Weinstein. At Harvard, more than 100 students a year defer college until the following year. Its graduation rate is 97 percent.

Marsha Ray, who has spent 20 years in the business, said work travel and studies are all good gap options. She calls herself the “gap year guru.”

Ray sends dozens of kids every year all over the world on a gap adventure. From Costa Rica to Nepal to South Africa, kids unsure about college are getting a world view.

“I have never had a student in 20 years who did a gap year who didn’t go onto college,” she said.

Ray said it’s about being a global citizen. Her students are working in medicine, on human rights, providing social services and studying the environment. Not for college credit but for a world experience. She too believes it’s working.

“They are more grown up and a dynamic individual in the classroom,” she said.

But Chicago’s MacCormac College Admissions Office is not on board with a gap year. The four year college with a criminal justice focus thinks the classroom is the first step toward students discovering who they are.

“You will actually earn more money your first year out of college than you could possibly save in a year,” Dashun Taylor, MacCormac, said. “Keep your skills up and keep going and transition because a lot of things can happen. Life happens. If you allow that gap, so many things can derail you from what your ultimate goal is.”

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