Friday, December 11, 2009

Gap Years in College Education

Posted by Ahmed Al-Salem

Students approach college financing in different ways. Some go through loans and financial aid, others through part time jobs others through their parents. But some students are doing more than just trying to pay for college. Instead of trying to look for more money to fund an education some students are trying to cut down costs as much as they can. Some students go to a community college their first two years and then apply to a university of their choice and end up only paying two years of tuition at a private university therefore saving thousands of dollars. Others try to finish school in three years and save a year of tuition. While others try to take a gap year to aid their finances and their education. If you run out of money half way through your college career maybe a gap year is right for you. Below is an example of a student who tried a gap year:
I ran out of money junior year. And I still couldn't settle on a major, anyway. I figured a year off would fix me up financially and help me figure out why I was going to college at all.

Oh, and my girlfriend had graduated and moved from Indiana to the Navajo reservation for her first job. So, rather than double up on college debt for an aimless senior year -- and lose her, too -- I quit college. I took the train to Gallup, N.M., where she met me at the station and drove me west across the state line into a land more foreign to me than any I'd lived in before.

I never regretted that year in Arizona 31 years ago. And I've since often wondered whether we Americans push our kids too lock-step from K-12 and into four more sequential years of study without asking whether there might be a better way for some of them.

A gap year isn't for everybody. Isaac's older brother Luke, for example, is in a mechanical-engineering program out East; taking a year off would stall his momentum in what's an intense and regimented program.

And before taking a gap year, college counselors tell me, it's crucial that students have a firm plan for what they're going to do with that year -- whether the gap is before or during college -- and a plan for how they're going to get back to school.

My gap year gave me more perspective on the globe -- and on my own country. When I returned to college after a year away, I'd worked in the "real world" (as a nearly full-time substitute teacher); I'd figured out how to set up a household; I'd explored the Southwest and then taken a solo bus trip to Belize and back on a $250 budget.

Back on campus, it felt like I had an unfair advantage over classmates who had stayed behind and often seemed to think of college as a grim continuation of what began in kindergarten. For me, college was now fresh and exciting; I had a new, intense appreciation for the value of my higher education, and vowed to make every dollar count.

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