This episode features an interview with Audrey, a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and her father Kurt. They share their advice and experience regarding gap years.
Audrey took a year off after high school to pursue additional learning opportunities in Africa.
A gap year is something your children may consider in the future. Most of those who study abroad or participate in a gap year program discover that it is the best thing they ever did!
Audrey’s Gap Year
Audrey is a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Curt is her father. However, before attending the university, Audrey participated in a gap year after graduating from high school.
First Half of Gap Year:
- In South Africa, she volunteered at a Big 5 Game Resort and a baboon sanctuary and rehabilitation center.
- In Namibia, she worked at a general wildlife sanctuary.
Second Half of Gap Year:
- She went to Madagascar to work at a children’s home.
- Then, she returned to South Africa to work with the baboons again.
Kurt was supportive of his daughter’s desire to participate in a gap year. “I thought traveling was a great idea,” he said.
Kurt believes that seeing different parts of the world is important, and there is plenty of time to go to college.
“Sending Audrey at the age of 18 to Africa is a big deal,” Kurt said. So they received guidance from the Center for Interim Programs to design a gap year that would be a safe and worthwhile experience for Audrey before she went on to college.
How to determine if a gap year is the way to go.
Audrey was not ready for college yet. She did not know where she wanted to go, what type of school she wanted to attend, or what she wanted to do. She was burnt out.
“I wanted something that would kind of re-energize me; something that would take me away from the really intense learning environment,” Audrey said.
She wanted a year off where she could still be productive, but not be sitting in a classroom every day. “I wanted something where I could kind of try to figure out what I want to do with my future. And the gap year seemed like that’s what would give me this,” she said.
Following in Audrey’s footsteps?
Kurt’s other daughter, Anna, felt like she was ready to go straight to college and had a direction. “I have two great kids, but they are different,” Kurt said. “Some kids are ready to jump right into college, while others are not.”
Audrey is a bit of an adventurer, so participating in a gap year was more in line with her personality.
Timeline for deciding on a gap year.
Audrey found out about the gap year option during the fall of her senior year of high school. She conducted research to find more information about this type of interim program. She went to Princeton to meet with Center for Interim Programs president Holly Bull, who provided guidance and helped her design her gap year plans.
“I applied to college and looked at the gap year program at the same time,” Audrey said.
Audrey’s gap year vs. college process:
- Decided to participate in a gap year and defer college for a year.
- Parents support her decision, but require her to apply to colleges as a back-up plan.
Audrey decided that the schools that she was accepted to initially were not where she actually wanted to go. So during the break between the first and second part of her gap year, she decided to apply to different colleges. “I think they changed because of the gap year,” Audrey said.
Audrey’s college applications – before and after:
- Initially, she only applied to small, private schools.
- After the first part of her gap year, she decided to go to the University of Wisconsin at Madison – a large school.
A parent’s concerns about gap year programs.
Safety was Kurt’s main concern. When looking on the web at gap year programs, he said it was difficult to discern the good from the bad. He really wanted to talk to someone about gap years. So, that is when Kurt and Audrey decided to meet with Holly Bull. That helped make Kurt confident that Audrey was going to safe places and where other gap year students had visited.
A gap year’s impact on college plans.
Originally, Audrey was strongly set against going to the University of Wisconsin at Madison because it seemed like everyone was going there, and it was too close to home. The gap year helped her to determine exactly where she wanted to go to college – ironically – the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “Going away made me appreciate home better,” Audrey said.
Budgeting time to think about college.
During each of her high school years, Audrey spent a lot of time:
- Thinking about colleges
- Visiting various colleges.
- Reviewed majors, requirements, and other factors for each college.
“Most of high school, you are thinking about college and where you are going to go,” said Audrey.
Kurt also had to budget time to:
- Accompany Audrey to college visits (involved a lot of travel time).
- Make sure Audrey took necessary tests (ACT, SAT).
- Make sure Audrey wrote application essays and other tasks.
However, the second round of applying to colleges between the first and second part of Audrey’s gap year went so much faster. She knew exactly what she wanted and where she wanted to go.
Differences between gap year and other students.
Audrey believes participating in a gap year program was worthwhile. It helped prepare her for college because:
- She was more mature than the other students.
- She had already experienced being away from home for the first time.
- She had more global life experience.
“I think it (a gap year) made college easier in the respect that I knew what I wanted and I had life experience to back that up,” Audrey said. “I think it prepared me really well for entering college.”
Audrey and Kurt’s advice on preparing for college.
- Don’t feel pressured to go straight into college after graduating from high school.
- Take a step back to determine what is right for you.
- Determine the right path. Go directly to college or take a detour.
- Grades and exam scores are important, but life experience is just as important.
- Don’t overspend on college. As a parent, you may have to say “No” to a child’s college choice.
- Colleges are overwhelmed with great applicants. Your child may not be accepted to their first choice and experience disappointment.
- Start a savings plan early on during childhood.
- Gap year experience benefits students both at college and in their careers.
Make sure to check out Episode 28 – Taking a Gap Year Interview with Holly Bull, President, Center for Interim Programs at https://tamingthehighcostofcollege.com/28. Holly tells us how taking a year (or even just a semester) away from the formal college environment can help students be more prepared to enter college or a career.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
- University of Wisconsin – Madison
- Center for Interim Programs
- TTHC 28: Taking a Gap Year Interview with Holly Bull
- Wellesley College
- Peace Corps
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