Earlier this year I joined the board of the American Gap Association. This organization maintains standards for gap year programs and works to ensure that students have a high quality experience through their accreditation process. The Association also conducts research. I happily support their mission for both personal and professional reasons.
While I didn’t take a gap year myself, I did have the chance to study abroad three out of my four years in college and they were experiences that continue to shape my world view. My masters thesis reviewed the history of study abroad, and I can only imagine if I had done so for a year. While gap years are perhaps more common in Europe, these activities are certainly gaining traction in the United States for a number of reasons.
Students don’t always feel ready to tackle college. Some are burnt out from high school (I was one of those students), don’t have the funds, or simply don’t know what they want to study. This is simplifying the challenge, but it rings true for thousands of students across the country. Students are also taking gap years after college and before graduate school or career. This is often the case for students who enter into AmeriCorps.
I also support AGA from professional standpoint. Not all gap years are service years, but together we can advance the awareness of opportunities and the number and scope of options. Gap year programs also tend to be international and we are continuing to explore how international service year programs fit into our offerings.
Gap year programs can have a significant impact on those who take one. An alumni survey found the following outcomes:
Alumni of service year programs have similar outcomes, though less so on language acquisition and more so on activities related to citizenship and democracy. At the annual AGA conference next week, I will present on Service Years as Gap Year Option. Please come say hello if you’re there.