Why a gap year is the best way to prepare for college

February 20, 2019

Today’s blog post comes to us from API alumni Jenny Doder! She studied abroad with us in Florence, Italy and is now a member of our marketing team. She’s opening about why a gap year is a great option for high school graduates!

Jenny Doder in Florence

Until I started to work in the field of education abroad, I had very little understanding of the gap year.

When I was in high school, the guidance counselors rarely mentioned this opportunity. I attended an all girls college preparatory high school. Over 98% of students went on to a 4-year college or university. I was exposed to the college application process as a freshman and learned quickly that this discussion wasn’t going away any time soon; it was just beginning.

We were encouraged to visit the 100+ college admissions representatives that would table in the library throughout the year. In addition, we were introduced to and encouraged to use our Naviance accounts to browse hundreds of options for college online, and start thinking about possible careers.

I did everything “right” when it came to building my resume for college. I took the PSAT as a sophomore and began studying for the ACT and SAT shortly after. In addition, I was taking AP courses, playing Varsity volleyball, participating in National Honor Society, Student Council, and Spanish Club. I also did well in school and learned to juggle my course load with my extracurriculars. However, I was stressed and burnt out trying to be a well-rounded student.

Even with all those experiences under my belt, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started college.

I didn’t even know much about myself at 17-18. My high school prepared me to manage my time effectively, but I didn’t feel the least bit confident in choosing a major. I realized it was not directly my fault that I didn’t know how to identify my passion and pick the right career. I just didn’t have the knowledge or exposure to pick an alternative to going to college right away. Had taking “time off” from the traditional academic path not been such a taboo topic to discuss, I really think I would have chosen a gap year as an opportunity to prepare for college. Here’s why.

Taking a gap year helps with burnout and allows students to pause, take a breath, and think about next steps without feeling pressured to have it all together by the time they transition to college.

How cool is it that programs exist to help students reflect, explore the world, and learn more about themselves? For many, a gap year can be an incredibly transformative experience. International experience, for example, deepens cultural awareness and challenges your assumptions about the host culture.

API wants our gap year students to go beyond experimenting with local food and visiting local places of interest. We want you to make a point to learn how locals live, consider their priorities, understand the challenges faced by the local society, and question your own perspective on the host culture. By working to really understand a culture different from your own, you build empathy and intercultural skills that will be valuable in your transition to college.  In addition, it also opens up your world to unique experiences that can inspire your future career choice.

Throughout your gap year, you will experience challenges and situations that require flexibility, openness, and critical thinking.

API alumni often assert that an international education was one of the most formative and life-changing experiences of their lives. In an API Parent-Guardian Reflection Survey, 91% of parents and guardians said that the study abroad experience impacted their student’s personal development. These parents also noted that their children returned more self-confident, responsible, proactive and mature. Meanwhile, an API Alumni survey showed that 87% of students said they experienced personal changes/ideological shifts. 61% said that study abroad affected their professional trajectory. API encourages gap year students to use their time abroad to explore personal interests, take on new responsibilities, and go outside their comfort zones. Doing so will help you interact with new people, and learn how to navigate unfamiliar situations.

College is an expensive investment. A gap year is, too. However, when done correctly with ample planning and a support team behind you, it is a wonderful opportunity to prepare for adulthood. Colleges, universities, and employers are looking for resourceful candidates. They want people quick on their feet, and able to make decisions. API knows that the confidence gap year students develop abroad encourages them to travel throughout their lives and be comfortable managing risks and challenges – skills that colleges are itching to see in their applicant pool and incoming freshmen classes.


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