The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 27, 2009

Do students gain from a gap year?

Robert Gilpin of Time Out Associates gave a presentation at the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School on February 10 about why and where students should consider taking a year off between high school and college, and why parents may find this both in their own and their children’s interest. Gilpin said, “More investigation … in the choices available on the way to college makes for a better college experience.”

Gilpin spent 26 years at Milton Academy before his retirement in 2001. He was one of six Master Teachers and remains a consultant for the school. In addition, he has written several books, including: Time Out: Taking a Break from School to Travel, Work, Study in the U.S. and Abroad and A Student’s Guide to College: Navigating the College and Transfer Admissions Process.

Gilpin pointed out that a four-year college education may cost $250,000 and some students take five to six years to graduate, adding to the cost. “Colleges are seeing more transfers every year,” he said, indicating students are often unhappy with their initial placement. His guiding principle is, “the more you look before [college], the better the results are after.”

He cautioned, “Please do not view eighth grade to college as a ride on an express train. Look at it as a local train that makes a lot of stops in all kinds of places and you can get back on again. Those stops get you more informed and you are better able to use college for what college is for: an education.”

Not every senior is ready to go to college, Gilpin suggested. If partying and being away from home without supervision are the motivation for college, “Convince him or her to think very carefully about it…Colleges love gap years. They get you a year older and more focused,” said Gilpin. He also said that a Harvard study showed that students who had taken a gap year were more prepared and with grades one letter higher than their peers.

Programs for younger students

Gilpin finds it unfortunate that there are so few possibilities for seventh and eighth graders. He recommended the Swiss “Winter Term” as a fine example of a program that informs students and makes them more aware of the world (see Ninth and tenth graders can look into Argo Academy (see and the Outdoor Academy of the Southern Appalatians (see

There are a variety of programs for eleventh graders. Gilpin highly recommended the Mountain School, and also liked: the Rocky Mountain Semester, the Maine Coast Semester, the Island School, the Outdoor Academy of the Southern Appalachians, the Oxbow School in Napa, California (which has a visual arts program) and CITYterm, part of the Masters School in New York City. If the sea is your passion, possibilities include Class Afloat and Ocean Classroom. All of these programs get students off campus into a totally different venue. “These kids go to high school in a totally different way…and they come back totally recharged.” Most of the schools mentioned above charge $17,000 to $21,000 per semester.

“There is not one path through high school.” Gilpin stressed, “I encourage you to look at those options before the gap year.” The student is experiencing something very different from CCHS, while not actually taking the term off. He added, “These experiences have enormous residual value for college admissions. Kids can say, ‘Look at me. I’m not the normal person. I’ve done something dramatically different and I can talk about it.’”

In terms of programs, Gilpin said, “There’s larger breadth than you can imagine. There are language programs in virtually every country you can think of.” He warned to be careful choosing language programs. Some concentrate more on socialization than the language itself. He recommended a program through Dartmouth. In addition, “There are interesting opportunities for skill building.” He suggested for a general warehouse of possibilities. There are arts programs for drawing and sculpture in England, Italy, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand and performing arts programs also.

Gilpin cautioned parents about targeting the summer between junior and senior year for special programs. “It is not worthwhile for college admissions, although it may be perfectly worthwhile for the student.” He suggested that students should get a job instead. The exception to this would be a foreign language immersion experience. If students become fluent, they can pass the foreign language requirement at most colleges.

Gap year after high school

Gilpin reasoned why taking a year between high school and college is an ideal time. If you take a year off during college, everyone else moves on. “You see yourself as behind. This situation doesn’t exist if you take a gap year.” It won’t matter that your child is a year older as an entering freshman. Though he did not share any statistics about drop-out rates, he told parents not to worry that students would not go to college after taking a gap year, “I know of 2,000 kids that went back.”

However, Gilpin is not keen on post-graduate programs at private high schools, because while they provide a new residential experience in a boarding school, students will have to get used to rules they never had at home. Also, if the motivation is to improve students’ academic standing, the college will only see the first mid-term grades which he felt are not particularly of value to college admissions. It may be a good experience for the student, but not for the college process.

Many gap-year programs are listed on Gilpin’s website ( A sampling includes Global Routes, which offers summer community service programs and college semester teaching internships; Lingua Services to learn Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian in a variety of countries; Projects Abroad, which allows students to volunteer in many capacities in 20 developing countries; and Where There Be Dragons, which has leadership programs combining experiential education, travel and service learning in exotic places. Students can search by geographic area and subjects that interest them, such as science, business, performing arts, education, media and language.

Cool Works is a warehouse of possible jobs and service opportunities mostly in the United States (see

Gap year planning process

Most students first apply to college, get accepted and then ask for a deferral. Gilpin suggested,“Defer, make a plan, think about how this works, come up with possibilities, what can you afford and make a decision.” Gilpin urged that students do a lot of thinking about what they want to do and why. “Plan,” he stressed, “It’s the first time in your lives you take responsibility for your life.” He added that there are 1,000 possibilities that parents will consider safe.

When asking a college for a deferred admission, Gilpin advised students to give reasons for deferral and explain plans for the year. In terms of timing, students generally plan their gap year in May, although AmeriCorps and City Year have earlier deadlines.

One other consideration is healthcare. Gilpin said, “If you are in a [structured] program, chances are, you can get healthcare.” But he advised that looser programs may not have healthcare options and this was something students and parents needed to be aware of. In particular, above a certain age, children may be dropped from their parent’s health insurance plan unless they are full-time students.

“You can do a program almost anywhere for [a cost of] about $5,000,” Gilpin estimated. Some service programs pay a small salary. He recommended doing a program that has a community service piece and concluded, “Do something fun!” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito