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GAP YEAR: Taking a Break Before College

By Jackie Burrell
Monday, June 2nd, 2008 at 11:16 am in College Apps & Angst.

Gap Year (illus. by Chuck Todd, Contra Costa Times)
Not everyone goes off to the Big U after high school graduation. Some work, others join the military and an increasing number — more than a quarter-million, worldwide — are emulating the Brits by taking a “gap year” to travel or do community service, here or abroad. They’re studying sharks off the Australian coast, building schools in Mexico and learning Punjabi or Italian. They’re “choosing to take a breather,” says Campolindo High college counselor Gwenly Carrel, “instead of just stepping onto the treadmill. They’re getting an experience they can take to the school they ultimately go to.”

In a recent Times story, we explored both the topic and colleges’ reactions to it — now we’ve got a student perspective from young filmmaker Emma Thatcher, who graduated from Concord’s Carondelet High last week. If Emma’s name sounds familiar, it should. Her documentary about Rubik’s Cube mania was showcased at South by Southwest and the Tribeca Film Festival last year — not in the student category, but among the pros. And Emma longs to take a gap year before she heads off to NYU. Read on for Emma’s take, then weigh in with your thoughts. Would you send your child off on a gap year? Did you take one? Or do you fantasize about taking a midlife gap year?

“My intention to take a year off,” says Emma, “was finalized in my mind when I traveled to Mexico for an immersion program this past February. Ever since then I have been researching ways in which I could spend my gap year. I have been accepted into New York University and I plan to defer my enrollment. I have had offers from the sisters of Saint Joseph and their affiliates to come and live, work, and learn in places such as Ecuador and Chile. I have had many long and emotional conversations with my parents who have had the hardest time accepting this decision.

“Taking a gap year isn’t an easy thing, and there is one big reason for that: money. taking a year off will cost my family a MINIMUM of $6000 (most programs cost more). If I took a gap year I would have to give up a $1000 scholarship that is only valid for this upcoming school year, I would have to buy separate health insurance because I am only covered as long as I am an active student with a certain number of units being taken at all times, and of course there are those lovely tuition increases that will only make the burden of the $200,000+ education I am going to receive at NYU that much heavier.

“It baffles me that I am too poor to volunteer in a third world nation.

“Taking a gap year is something I don’t feel like doing because I think it will be a great time off or a great adventure — rather it is something I need. I want to learn and grow in a completely different way. I want to immerse myself in other cultures and languages and see what the world has to offer. I am a film major and I think that living (and essentially learning) in South America will only add to my skills as a filmmaker. Film to me is the education of the human condition, and I feel like I need to learn a lot more before I can begin to educate. I want to make the most of my time at NYU, and I don’t feel like I can do that now. What frustrates me even more is that there are so many teens (many of whom I went to school with) who have the financial ability to take a gap year — and they don’t. It feels like a complete injustice.

“I am not giving up on my dream to take a gap year. even if I have to work three jobs…I’m going to South America. Nothing is impossible when you are determined.”

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