Already a well-established practice in Europe, more American students are taking time off between high school and college for exploration and to seek personal growth. Known as "gap years," that period of time has the potential for transformation, students who took gap years told New England Cable News.
"It opens your eyes," said Madi Cook-Comey, a 2014 graduate of Shelburne, Vermont's Lake Champlain Waldorf School, who is now on a gap year. "It's a time you really get to see what you're made of."
Cook-Comey recently explored art historical treasures of Europe and worked at a monkey rehabilitation center in South Africa. She told NECN she deferred entering college, and has applied to other schools to give herself more options. She plans to start college in the fall of 2015, she said.
Lucy Crane of Portland, Maine, is now a sophomore at the University of Vermont and also took a gap year between high school and college. She traveled through South Asia and South America. "My curiosity that my gap year gave me just drove me so far when I got to my freshman year [at UVM]," Crane recalled.
The concept is spreading among high school guidance counselors and universities, with more encouraging kids to defer college, said Julia Rogers, a professional gap year consultant and owner of En Route Consulting (http://www.enroutegapyear.com/) in Stowe, Vermont. Rogers said hard data on participation in gap years is not available, but information from colleges and high schools points to increases in the number of students taking gap years.
"It's not just sitting on the couch, eating potato chips, and waiting for this year to go by," Rogers said. "It's about getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself."
Rogers acknowledged many high school grads are excited about going straight to college. But she said she believes others may benefit from taking time to get to know themselves better and to informally experiment with what they may want to formally study in college. "It'll just make it a much more meaningful experience for them," Rogers said.
Rogers said the high cost of many colleges, and concerns over lengthy student loan debts have led more students to want to take time to determine more clearly what they want out of their educations.
Miles Scanlon, a junior at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, said he expects he'll spend a year living in Europe to improve his German before going to college. "I want to do something that I've never seen before; that I've never done before," Scanlon said.
Scanlon noted concerns over the potential price tag for his gap year are giving him some pause in his planning. Some formal gap year programs are as costly as a year at many colleges. Others are not, like serving a teaching and mentoring program such as the Boston-based organization City Year. Still other students may work for six months to save for another six months of foreign travel, Rogers said.
"It made me such a better student," Crane said of the confidence and hunger for new ideas her gap year gave her. "I couldn't be more thankful."
The Worcester, Massachusetts-based group USA Gap Year Fairs has several information sessions on gap years planned over the next several days in New England. Fairs are scheduled Wednesday in South Burlington, Vermont, Thursday in West Hartford, Connecticut, and Sunday in Dedham, Massachusetts. Visit this website for more information.