Think about 3.6 million high school graduates this Spring who have spent 13 or more years in school. They have been tied to a curriculum that has good intentions for expanding the student’s world of knowledge, understanding and skills requisite for a good education. How then do you answer the question, “What are the marks of an educated person?” Approximately 2.4 million of these graduates are planning to go on to college. And just over half of those will actually graduate. And what about the other 1.2 million?
Most educators, and parents, know about the concept and practice of a gap year. This year has often been taken between high school and college or work but not necessarily then. It could be a junior or senior year abroad in either high school or college or it could be between the freshman and sophomore year of college. Or it could be just some extended time after graduation without regard for what’s next. The point is to consider the benefits and rewards of this time outside of the regularly scheduled, progressive, non-stop march toward a diploma or a job.
We would do well to eliminate the term “gap year” and change it to “bridge year” because the notion of a bridge makes more sense and is not a year off but rather a year on a different path. That path crosses the gap with a planned structure of design, engineering and construction that takes you from one place to another.
There are numerous programs to assist students and their families who are interested in one of these experiences that might include an internship in a profession or business or the arts, travel and study abroad in a different country and culture, or a self-directed study in a field that the student is passionate about. This can range from technology to outer space to the inner spaces of human behavior. It could be an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, even for those who are intending to go on to college as well as for those for whom college is not an option.
A year like this may provide the student with a new and deeper level of understanding about the possibilities for careers as well as a renewed vigor for continuing studies in a post-secondary setting. It does not have to be college although colleges look favorably on these kinds of experiences. For a solid example of such a resource have a look at a program originally called http://www.uncollege.org and recently re-branded to http://www.yearon.com.
Finally, this kind of opportunity provides additional responsibilities and choices that can add a degree of maturity to the individual’s growth and development. Not only does it give the student time “off” from the regular grind of school, but it also allows time for some serious reflection about addressing the question of why they are doing what they’re doing. That alone would make this year or extended time of great value.
You may wish to engage in a conversation about this exciting possibility, the pros and cons. You can, with some outside help, design your own such experience. Have a go at evaluating whether this might be a rich opportunity for one of your students or your children, knowing they are unlikely to be reading this post!
EPILOGUE: This Bridge Year is not only for students but can also be for adults who could use a bridge year for an important transition. In the world of academia we instituted sabbatical years. In other professions and in business, people sometimes take a year to plan a significant change in careers. And in life itself, there can be an event that has a tremendous impact such as an illness, an accident, a divorce or a death. A bridge from that previous experience to the next stage of life may be exactly what is needed to get onto a different path.