Considering the “Gap Year” (Part One)

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Jan 23, 2010 11:51 PM

I would like to address the notion of taking time off or the “gap year” at two different levels. In this blog, I will lay a philosophical foundation for the gap year discussion. In the next blog (Part Two), I will talk specifically about if/how the gap year might benefit you.

Conceptually, the question of the gap year fits within a broader consideration of what seems to be a required succession of experiences that young people must follow in their academic lives. The lockstep begins with pre-school and, for many, extends right through graduate school. It’s as though kids are placed on a conveyor belt that moves them through a series of prescribed exercises that systematically measures their needs, fills them up with the things they “need to know,” tests them and, assuming they have acquired a “minimal level of mastery,” stamps them as fit for promotion.

While the educational chronology is geared to the developmental and academic needs of each age-group cohort, it fails to accommodate the kids whose progress along their respective learning paths requires different measures.

Consider, for example, the young woman who desperately wants to accelerate her progress toward high school graduation because, by age 14, she has exhausted the curricular offerings of her school. Or the young man who is “young” for his eighth grade class. Like many others whose academic tracking puts them ahead of their peers, each is struggling to weigh the desire to remain stimulated intellectually with the need to grow socially and emotionally in age-appropriate ways.

Unfortunately, ours is not a “one size fits all” system that works comfortably for everyone. It is important to remember, then, that the best interests of the young person may not always be defined by the chronology. As parents and educators, we need to remain vigilant in support of those interests even when doing so means taking them out of the lockstep of the conveyor belt. This is, by the way, one of the reasons the home-schooling effort has been mounted with such success.

This brings us to, what is for many families, the more pressing issue of the “gap year.” While some students are understandably concerned about their readiness—academic, social or emotional—to move immediately into college, others simply need to be able to step back and breath deeply before taking the next step into life as a full-time college student. Yet others are able to realize some pretty cool personal enrichment opportunities related to travel, service, or work.

In my next blog, I will address the implications of the “gap year” for students in the admission process.

Note: The Web-Side Chats webcast series, a component of the Best College Fit™ Resources, will feature a related discussion entitled “Course Selections: A Window Into Your Passion For Learning” at 7PM ET on January 25, 2010. This live interactive presentation will examine course selections within the context of the college admission process. Along with the ensuing Q&A session, it will be especially valuable to students as they choose courses for their junior and senior years of high school. To register, go to Best College Fit Resources at

Peter Van Buskirk is an author, consultant, speaker and creator of the Best College Fit™ Resources. Visit to learn more about Peter and his student-centered approach to college planning.

Published in Life After 12th Grade

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