US gap years on the rise

A leading expert on education in the United States says more and more American students are thinking about taking a gap year in the near future.

Gap years have traditionally been less popular in the US than in other countries because of the cost of going to college and the strength of competition for the best places.

But the longer term benefits of taking time out now appear to be giving students pause for thought.

Robert Clagett, former senior admissions officer at Harvard College, told the New York Times: “It can frequently seem as if where we go to college has become more important than what we actually do with the opportunity once we get there. For some, getting into the perfect college has become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.”

Mr Clagett goes on to talk about gap years specifically: “More and more students are stepping off the educational treadmill, pursuing interests and reminding themselves in the process of what their education is really all about. 

“The reason for all of this interest is that much evidence has shown that students who take a gap year bring more to their college experiences and derive more from them as well.  What often happens is that students end up ‘reinventing’ themselves during their gap year, discovering where their true interests and talents lie, and helping them bring a more mature outlook to their education in the future.”

Mr Clagett states that the industry has developed over the years and that there are now more books, gap year fairs and services than ever before, all encouraging American students to take a gap year. Surveys suggest the number of Harvard students taking gap years has risen by more than a third since 2000.  

In a survey of 250 UK Human Resources professionals carried out by YouGov in July, almost half (46%) said they would be more likely to employ a graduate with gap year experience involving independent travel, working or volunteering overseas than one without. And more than half (51%) thought young people taking constructive gap years tended to get better value out of subsequent education.

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