Thinking of taking a “gap year”?

The “gap year” has been in the news lately since President Obama’s daughter, Malia, is going to defer her college enrollment for a year and take a  . . .gap year.  What is a gap year?  It’s a space (= gap) between graduating from high school and enrolling/attending university.  For some students, as detailed in the article here, it is a much needed break — a time out of sorts.

How to take one:  if you have already applied to a college or university and decide you want to take a gap year, then you will need to contact your school and ask for permission to “defer” — put off attending for a specific amount of time.  Your school may allow you to delay by one semester or it may only allow you to delay by one year, it depends on the school.  If you don’t ask, you won’t know if it is possible.

If you haven’t yet applied to schools, but plan to do so soon (and enroll the following year), then it might be a good idea to think about the upcoming year as a “gap year” that will positively contribute to your upcoming application package.

As the article linked above indicates, gap years can be expensive:  people traveling all over the world engaging in volunteer activities; working for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in faraway places that seem needy; but, gap years do not have to be expensive.  Here is the idea behind a gap year:  You are taking a break from FORMAL education (= school) to engage in INFORMAL education (= hands on training in a specified context).  If you want to take a gap year, or need to take a gap year for any reason, look around your local area and think creatively:  where would my time and energy be well spent? What do I like doing and would like to learn more about?  There are plenty of NGOs in your local area, no doubt, that are in need of volunteers and workers (think:  SPCA, Girls/Boys Scouts/Club, public schools, community centers, refugee or migrant assistance centers, and the list goes on and on).  Even if you are not a paid worker, you will still need to submit paperwork and apply; and, depending on the situation, in a public school for example, you may need to undergo a background check or other administrative checks to be able to volunteer.  Every step of the process is a learning step.  You will be learning by doing — by asking questions and seeking input from others — and then you will learn by being trained by someone already in the position.  All of these are opportunities to understand how institutions work, to see real people in real situations responding to daily events.  In short, this is real life.  Don’t approach it as a ho-hum ‘task’.  Approach like this:  this “class” does not provide a textbook or lecture notes.  I must learn everything through observation, asking questions, and trial and error.

THAT learning is the sum total of a GAP YEAR.  Whether it is done on another continent or 2 miles from your home.  Learning how real people undertake their daily tasks is a true lesson that, eventually, will make the classroom not only seem like a refuge, but will bring to life lessons IN the classroom as you can imagine real-life scenarios through the experiences in which you engaged.

If you can do a gap year, do it!  But, take notes.  It’s STILL learning, just outdoors in the classroom of LIFE.

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