Friday, 26 October 2012

A Primer on Gap Years

This is a great article that answers some varied questions about gap years that are especially pertinent this time of year when youth are thinking about their next steps in life.  We would love to share our experience as Canadian advocates of gap years, and approaches to alternative time away from school at any point in a college, university or workforce year

A primer on gap years
It’s the season when high school seniors are frantically filling out college applications and trying to figure out where they will be and what they will be doing next fall.
There is some evidence that a growing number of U.S. high school graduates are taking a year off before going to college. But there are questions about how gap years work, and who they benefit and what colleges think about them.
To get some answers, I talked with Laura R. Hosid, an expert on gap years at the Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc. in Bethesda, and you can read the Q & below.
 Q) What exactly is a gap year and when do students take one? Is it always right after high school?
 A gap year typically describes a year off between high school and college.  While gap years have long been a common practice in England and other countries, they have only recently gained popularity in the United States.  Gap years offer an opportunity to travel, explore different interests, and gain experience and maturity before beginning college.

Q) How many kids do this in the United States? How different is this than in England?
There are no official statistics on how many U.S. students take gap years, but many colleges and guidance counselors have noticed a recent upward trend.  According to a 2010 Time Magazine article, "[t]he number of Americans taking gap years through Projects Abroad, a U.K. company that coordinates volunteer programs around the world, has nearly quadrupled since 2005."
While gap years are gaining popularity in the United States, they remain more popular in England, where the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services found that 7% of all British students deferred admission to take a gap year in 2007.  According to the Higher Education Research Institute, an estimated 1.2 percent of first-time college freshmen in the United States deferred admission to take a gap year in 2011.  Neither of these numbers include students who may have applied to college after taking a gap year. 
Q) Why do kids usually taken a gap year? Are they exhausted from high school? Looking for a way to boost their resumes to get into college?
Many students choose to take a gap year because they see it as an opportunity to try something new and take a break from formal schooling, while also realizing that the perspective, maturity and experience they gain can benefit them in their college careers.  A gap year can be an excellent opportunity to actively pursue an interest or passion and thereby gain experience that will be attractive to employers after graduation. 
Some students take a gap year because they feel that they need the time off because they are not academically or emotionally ready for college, and still others want a second chance to reapply to colleges the following year.
Regardless of their reason for taking a gap year, these students often return to school with renewed vigor and focus — in fact, a New York Times article cites a study by the Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College who observed that the average GPA for Middlebury students who had taken a gap year was consistently higher than those who had not. 
Q)  Would a new high school graduate who wants to take a gap year apply to college and get in first before declaring they want to take a gap year and ask for a deferment, or should they wait to apply? Are college/university admissions officers generally open to requests for a deferment for the purpose of taking a gap year?
The majority of students apply to college and secure a spot by placing an enrollment deposit, and then ask for a deferral.  Almost all colleges will approve a gap year if presented with a reasonable plan — in other words, one that does not involve lounging on the beach for a year!  In fact, Harvard University's acceptance letter actually encourages students to consider deferring admission to take a gap year.  According to Harvard's website, each year 50-70 students take advantage of this option. Other schools have also formally encouraged gap years -- for example, Princeton University's Bridge Year Program, and the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill's Global Gap Year Fellowship Program.
Q)  If a student is looking to improve their chances of getting into college, what sorts of things do colleges like to see done during a gap year?
While a gap year can certainly enhance your admissions profile, it cannot compensate for deficiencies in your high school record.  While colleges support and encourage gap years, admissions officers rarely see gap year experiences have a dramatic effect on a student's chances of admission. 
With this in mind, the most valuable experiences are often those that delve deeper into a student's demonstrated interests, or otherwise reflect maturity and purpose. For example, a college is likely to view more favorably a prospective international relations major who completes a language immersion program while also interning or volunteering in a foreign country, compared to a student who backpacks and parties his way through Europe without a plan. 
Q) What kinds of things do students do on their gap years?
Many students choose to spend their gap year in structured programs volunteering abroad or in the United States.  There are also many opportunities to explore interests in the environment, arts, and other cultures.  Taking courses to improve academic skills is another option.  Within these broad categories, there are a myriad of options ranging from studying at the International Culinary Center in New York, to performing musical stage performances in multiple countries while living with host families with Up With People, to building trails in state parks with the Student Conservation Association.
One thing to keep in mind is that gap years need not be expensive or involve international travel.  City Year, part of AmeriCorps, provides a stipend and scholarship for 10 months of service in inner city schools. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms offers offer meals and housing in exchange for farming work.  
A gap year also does not need to be one full-year program.  Students often piece together different options to explore a range of interests, or can work for a few months to fund a shorter opportunity.   Short-term options can range from three weeks at a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa with BroadReach to a month studying French at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota.
 Q) How do families get help planning one?
There are several good books available, including "The Complete Guide to the Gap Year" by Kristin M. White and "The Gap-Year Advantage" by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson.  Websites such as Teen Life offer listings of gap year programs by type - many private high schools and colleges also have lists available online.   In addition, USA Gap Year Fairs offer over thirty different fairs throughout the country (fairs are scheduled for Feb. 26, 2013 in Rockville, MD and Feb. 27, 2013 in Fairfax, VA).  Finally, there are a small number of educational consultants who focus on gap year advising and can help students figure out what they want to do and help identify specific programs that would be a good match.
This is what mygapyear offers to our Canadian clients.  We look forward to working with you on creating your personalized gap year to fit your needs, dreams and goals. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Education - anywhere, anytime, for everyone

This week we would like to highlight an article that was published in the Globe and Mail by Caroline Alphonsso.  Our gappers, and all gappers, are explorers of the world.  They are keenly interested in learning more about themselves, others and the world around them.  Often this means becoming aware of their place in the world and exploring ideas and beliefs around belonging. 

Katimavik, a Canadian volunteer program, recently cancelled by the Federal Government, offered the participants credits for their involvement in the program.   Why is this important, you ask?  Well, I invite you to read this article and think about the intersection of gapping as informal and experiential education.   Maybe while you are taking a gap year you want to learn more about your deepest passions - this could be a good place to start. 

What if anyone around the world could learn from the best instructors, for free? 

Daphne Koller is dramatically transforming the face of higher education, and she’s doing it through technology.  Dr. Koller, a professor at Stanford University, is also the co-founder of Coursera, a major U.S. initiative that offers open online courses for free to anyone in the world, from some of the best instructors in top institutions. The program has about 1.25-million enrolments, proof that students want more out of their university education than simply attending lectures.

"With the technologies that are now available, there is an opportunity to remarkably enhance the traditional lecture experience," Dr. Koller said.
Coursera holds plenty of appeal for older learners and those in remote locations around the world. And traditional undergraduates can build on what they are currently learning with courses that their university does not offer.
Students log in to Coursera, and have lecture modules every week and homework assignments that are graded for free either by their peers or through Coursera’s online program. For those who argue that there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction, it turns out that students who take these courses self-organize into small online groups to work together. At the end of the course, students receive a certificate if they have mastered the material.
Coursera's success is evidence of the exploding interest in open online courses. More than two dozen universities, including the University of Toronto, offer courses through the online program. For Dr. Koller, it is about not denying anyone the opportunity to learn in a global economy.
"I would like to make it so that education was a right, and not a privilege. [So that] anyone around the world who felt the wish to learn ... that opportunity would be there for anyone, at any time, regardless of their geographic, financial or social circumstances."

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Who, What, How, Where and Whys of Gapping.

            Unpacking the Backpacker

                Browse more data visualization.


Friday, 5 October 2012

Part II: Alignment: Judger/Learner

There was a reason the blog signed off with a video about the book: Change your Questions, Change your life.    The first question in the next set of questions from Martha Beck is listed below.  If we focus too much on what is wrong, instead of looking towards what is right, or what could be better one can fall victim to aligning yourself and attaching negative experiences.   This traps us.

On October 27th, mygapyear has created a forum to help open two groups to question their relationships, conversations and how they align themselves with a changing world.  Young Men Finding Direction is a collaborative event hosted by mygapyear in partnership with several men who can relate to questioning being a man growing up in the 21st century.  We invite families and their sons to come and explore this question.

In the meantime, laugh and live into these questions.  

11. Where am I wrong?
This might well be the most powerful question on our list—as Socrates believed, we gain our first measure of intelligence when we first admit our own ignorance. Your ego wants you to avoid noticing where you may have bad information or unworkable ideas. But you'll gain far more capability and respect by asking where you're wrong than by insisting you're right.

12. What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?
I once read a story about a world where people sold memories the way we can sell plasma. The protagonist was an addict who'd pawned many memories for drugs but had sworn never to sell his memory of falling in love. His addiction won. Afterward he was unaware of his loss, lacking the memory he'd sold. But for the reader, the trade-off was ghastly to contemplate. Every time you choose social acceptance over your heart's desires, or financial gain over ethics, or your comfort zone over the adventure you were born to experience, you're making a similar deal. Don't.

13. Am I the only one struggling not to {fart} during {yoga}?
I felt profoundly liberated when this issue was raised on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update." Not everyone does yoga, but SNL reminded me that everyone dreads committing some sort of gaffe. Substitute your greatest shame-fear: crying at work, belching in church, throwing up on the prime minister of Japan. Then know you aren't alone. Everyone worries about such faux pas, and many have committed them (well, maybe not the throwing up on PMs). Accepting this is a bold step toward mental health and a just society.

14. What do I love to practice?
Some psychologists believe that no one is born with any particular talent and that all skill is gained through practice. Studies have shown that masters are simply people who've practiced a skill intensely for 10,000 hours or more. That requires loving—not liking, loving—what you do. If you really want to excel, go where you're passionate enough to practice.

15. Where could I work less and achieve more?
To maximize time spent practicing your passions, minimize everything else. These days you can find machines or human helpers to assist with almost anything. Author Timothy Ferriss "batches" job tasks into his famous "four-hour workweek." My client Cindy has an e-mail ghostwriter. Another client, Angela, hired an assistant in the Philippines who flawlessly tracks her schedule and her investments. Get creative with available resources to find more time in your life and life in your time.

16. How can I keep myself absolutely safe?
Ask this question just to remind yourself of the answer: You can't. Life is inherently uncertain. The way to cope with that reality is not to control and avoid your way into a rigid little demi-life, but to develop courage. Doing what you long to do, despite fear, will accomplish this.

17. Where should I break the rules?
If everyone kept all the rules, we'd still be practicing cherished traditions like child marriage, slavery, and public hangings. The way humans become humane is by assessing from the heart, rather than the rule book, where the justice of a situation lies. Sometimes you have to break the rules around you to keep the rules within you.

18. So say I lived in that fabulous house in Tuscany, with untold wealth, a gorgeous, adoring mate, and a full staff of servants...then what?
We can get so obsessed with acquiring fabulous lives that we forget to live. When my clients ask themselves this question, they almost always discover that their "perfect life" pastimes are already available. Sharing joy with loved ones, spending time in nature, finding inner peace, writing your novel, plotting revenge—you can do all these things right now. Begin!

19. Are my thoughts hurting or healing?
Your situation may endanger your life and limbs, but only your thoughts can endanger your happiness. Telling yourself a miserable mental story about your circumstances creates suffering. Telling yourself a more positive and grateful story, studies show, increases happiness. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, choose thoughts that knit your heart together, rather than tear it apart.

20. Really truly: Is this what I want to be doing?
It's been several seconds since you asked this. Ask it again. Not to make yourself petulant or frustrated—just to see if it's possible to choose anything, and I mean any little thing, that would make your present experience more delightful. Thus continues the revolution.