Friday, May 6, 2016

My Gap Year:

Malia Obama will graduate high school this month, but she won’t begin her work at Harvard until fall of next year. She’s taking a “gap year” – a year off between high school and college.

Malia is not alone. The New York Times claims the gap year is growing in popularity.

“The idea is that university-bound students go on an adventure, do something meaningful and, if all goes to plan, arrive at campus a year later more mature, focused and attuned to their goals.”

My Gap Year

I’m familiar with the gap year because I took it, too, back before the practice had a name. After high school I was unsure of college and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I took a year off and worked as a Lifeguard at Great Wolf Lodge and Volunteered at a local Fire Department.

If you think it’s just a “yearlong postponement of schoolwork,” as the New York Times article opens, then you’re missing the point. My gap year was busy. I worked, got involved in local business associations, volunteered at a Fire Department (ran into burning buildings and provided basic medical care in the back of an ambulance).

Not everyone liked the idea then, and people still worry about it now. One of my teachers, upon hearing my plan, shook his head and said, “Elliott, if you don’t go to college this fall, you’ll probably never go.”

I was taken aback.

Looking back, I have to admit my teacher was right about the statistics. In 1999, there was a much higher likelihood that failing to go straight from high school to college would lead you to abandon plans for future education.

But when it comes to what was the best decision for me, my teacher was wrong. My gap year, in which I lived at home as an adult, taught me how to juggle work, family, and how to save money. I was able to detach from the peer pressure of just following the crowd of classmates into various colleges and universities. The gap year sowed the seeds for my eventual move to Liberty University. The gap year changed the course of my life. The gap year gave me some time to sort out my goals and my gifts, and then make a bold step.

Can You Afford a Gap Year?
Today, many experts claim that a gap year leads students to perform better in college and to end up in more satisfying careers. The push back is that only rich people can afford such a thing. Malia’s decision was criticized on social media for being out of touch with the real world.

Considering the cost of college these days, the bigger question is not “Can we afford a gap year?” but “can we afford college?”

In my experience there was something about the daily grind of working and volunteering at the Fire Department that taught me to value my future education. The year between high school and college gave me time to think, to plan, to dream. I didn’t take a gap year because I had money, but because I needed money… and time, to figure out what should come next.

Consider the Idea
Every student has different goals, gifts, and dreams. It would be foolish to recommend all high school students take a gap year, just as it would be foolish to forbid such a thing. But I hope more Christian parents and students will at least consider the idea.

An education in life is just as valuable as an education in books. Gap years give you time to grow.

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