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What if Your Senior Year of High School Became a Gap Year?

Liz Dwyer

There's an interesting dialogue going on over at the New York Times' Learning Blog about gap years—students are weighing in about whether or not they should take them. More high school students take extra classes so they can graduate early, and high school exit exams usually only test the first year or two. So, what if high school became three years of classes and then senior year is applying what you've learned by working to solve the globe's toughest challenges?

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  • Suzanne Wang

    What an intriguing idea! I just graduated from high school, and while I loved my academic classes and learned a tremendous amount senior year, I did sometimes feel a strong desire to do more than just sit in a classroom. After I decided on a college, I managed to get my parents to agree reluctantly on my gap year plans.

    Now, while most of my friends are off reading Proust or learning about modeling with differential equations (which I will be happy to do in one year's time), I am venturing off into unfamiliar territory for the next several months: interning at cool organizations, traveling to multiple continents, volunteering, training in yoga… it’s learning, but in a different way, and I couldn't be happier with my decision.

    I feel like the next step, particularly in the US, is to make gap years more widely accepted. Parents are often reluctant because they’re worried that their kids will slack off and lose motivation for school, students are reluctant because they’re ready to make new friends and have the college experience, and society is reluctant because we are made to believe that we should all follow one conventional path.

    Plus, as the article said, students are faced with (and deterred by) mostly pricey options organized by for-profit companies. While I’m sure most of those programs are well-run and students gain a lot from them, more organizations such as City Year should exist. Furthermore, we should be encouraged to seek out and plan our own experiences that aren't necessarily tied any certain structure. Sean's project seems awesome and I am hopeful that this dialogue on gap years (and senior year as gap years) continue!

    • Rosalie Murphy

      Suzanne, that's awesome! I'm finishing my undergrad now, and part of me definitely wishes I'd taken a year off to organize my thoughts and think deeply about what I wanted (and didn't want!) to study/pursue as a career -- it would've saved a lot of stress and, for so many students who start undergrad just because it's the "right" think to do, a year or more of tuition dollars. So much respect for what you're doing, and good luck!

    • Liz Dwyer

      That's great that Sean is doing that. One of the things mentioned over at the NY Times article is that there are several for-profit entities cropping up with a "pay us and we'll drop you into the developing world" kind of approach--which really isn't what we need. Youth should be able to do this without having to spend oodles of cash--and what if the $10K that would've gone to paying a school district for senior year was given to a local nonprofit that the student would embed in for a year? In the meantime, serving with AmeriCorps organizations is also a great approach to this.