January 2009

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Students taking time off to travel across Europe.
Teen Voice

So you're not going to college?
The gap year.

-- Shira Landau

What if I said that I have straight A’s, divine SAT scores, and more extracurricular activities than can fit on the paper we give our guidance counselors? The expectation is that I’ll go to college after graduating high school, get a degree, find a career, raise a family, and, in the words of Pete Seeger, “live in a box made out of ticky tacky.”

Kudos to the brave high school senior out there who nearly offends the expectant adult by responding, “No, I am not going to college. I am going to open my own barber shop modeled off of this famous guy’s place in Paris.” However, if you are going to college, ask yourself sometime before you graduate, "Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of a higher education? Am I doing it because my parents say that a college education is the only way to survive in our capitalistic society?" If you find yourself uneasy with automatic, feeble answers, perhaps it may be worthwhile to take some time off to expand your horizons and pull your thoughts together before lurching back into the school setting.

The number of high school graduates who take a “gap year” or “gap semester” as an intermission between high school and college has escalated in recent years. Many students choose to apply to college in their senior year of high school, and then request for a deferral in order to take a gap year. Realistically speaking, most students do not have their lives mapped out by the end of high school; most do not by the end of college either. However, by taking some time to explore other educational opportunities, students gain focus. When you sit down for your first class at Northwestern, Goucher, or Temple, you might know why you are sitting there, and where you want to be four years from that moment.

An interviewee on National Public Radio recently mentioned that if you Google the words “gap year” you get over eleven million hits. Surfing online for programs has merits, but scammers still lurk behind well designed pages. While perusing one day sometime late last year, I gave a reasonable-looking volunteering program in Costa Rica my junk email address. They’re still begging me to sign up four months later (legitimate places usually do not want you unless you’ve applied and gone through an interview process).

Alternative educational opportunities do not only exist abroad - believe it or not, you can find or create one in the Philadelphia area. Contact former teachers or family friends who specialize in fields that you are interested in. Ask whether or not they know of anyone in need of an intern in that field, or if they could put you in contact with someone who might. Utilize connections with individuals who attend local colleges and universities to inquire about research or fieldwork going on at their schools.

It is possible turn anything into an educational experience- it simply depends on your definition of educational. Interacting with individuals, who hold passions, visions, and philosophies that diverge from yours, on a daily basis for any period of time may not appear directly educational; yet, reflecting on those conversations, discussions or methods of approaching a task or a problem will lead you to draw conclusions. Upon drawing conclusions, you will have learned something.

By engaging in the learning process outside of the classroom, you may grow in ways that lead you to redefine what it means to learn. You may find that the courage, tolerance, or determination you gain from experience in the real world benefits you in the classroom setting. A gap semester or gap year enables you to secure your priorities and actively direct your attention to your passions.

To view previous editions of "Teen Voice", please click here.

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