To go or not to go

Gap year can benefit some students

Gap year can benefit some students

April 21, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Anthony Zindel, 18, has been spending this school year out of school.

The South Hagerstown High School graduate is working full time selling cell phones at Valley Mall and thinking about what he wants to do in the fall - go to college or enlist in the Coast Guard.

Grace Yodie, 18, expects to graduate from South High in June and then spend a year traveling and doing mission work before starting college.

Zindel is taking and Yodie is planning a "gap" year.

Taking a gap year, a year off between high school and college, is popular in Europe and uncommon in the United States.


It often involves traveling and there are Web sites dedicated to promoting traveling and volunteering opportunities for people taking a gap year.

Whether taking a gap year is a good or bad idea depends on whom you ask.

Robert Lochbaum, a 12th-grade counselor at North Hagerstown High School, thinks gap years are a bad idea.

Debbie Donoghue, a South High counselor, thinks there are times when taking a year off suits a student.

"We're not all ready for college right away," Donoghue says. Some students have had a "meltdown" at college during their freshman year because they weren't ready, she says.

Determining whether a young adult is ready for college depends on the individual, Donoghue says.

Some young adults want to get "out there," have their own place. Once they are faced with paying their own bills, they might be ready to go back to school, Donoghue says. She recommends students take challenging high school courses so they will be prepared when they do go to college.

Donoghue took a year off before going to community college and then the Air Force. She finished college in the Air Force, which also paid for her master's schooling in counseling.

Her parents couldn't afford to send her to college and there was little financial aid available in the early 1970s. So she goofed around, moved to Florida twice, flipped burgers at McDonald's and assembled radio components in a factory, where she had to raise her hand if she wanted to go to the bathroom.

"There's no way I was going to do this eight hours a day for the rest of my life, even though the money was good," she says of the factory work.

Her year off made her realize she was "kind of aimless" and needed an education.

North High's Lochbaum is concerned that students who take a year off might not return to school. He encourages students to start college in the autumn following high school graduation.

Many students who plan to take a year off to make money end up getting married and accumulating debt so they need to keep working to pay off that debt and don't return to school, Lochbaum says.

If they go back to college years later it can be tougher because they are trying to study while supporting and raising a family, Lochbaum says.

Lochbaum also says that taking a year off to work can work against young adults when they apply for financial aid. The money they earn could reduce how much financial aid they get, he says.

Parental concerns

Yodie's parents were initially leery about Grace wanting to take a year off because they were concerned she wouldn't go to college at all, says her mother Renea Yodie.

After the couple did some research on gap years and realized Grace was determined to go to college, they felt better, Renea Yodie says.

"She grew up in pretty much a small town. We really want her to have a global view," Yodie says. She says Grace's gap year will be like a year of school because she'll be gaining real-life experiences.

Grace Yodie is going to Alaska to help her former youth pastor with mission work at a reservation. Later, she might travel to Jerusalem to visit family.

Renea Yodie wishes she had taken a gap year.

"I didn't feel I was academically ready," says Yodie, who dropped out of college her sophomore year. When she went back to college to get her degree, she felt she got more out of it than she would have right out of high school.

Anthony Zindel's mother, Susan, says she wishes Anthony had gone straight to college, but ultimately it was his choice.

"I can't make him do something he doesn't want. If he's not ready, he's not going to put his all into it," she says.

Year off of school can be a plus

"I think the best way for someone to come to college is to be at a point in their life where that's where they want to be," says Lorna Edmundson, president of Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.

If there's something a student wants to do before starting college, a gap year is likely the best decision, she says. Particularly if the year is spent clarifying the student's interests, capabilities and talents.

Taking a year off shouldn't put them at a disadvantage in getting admitted to college, Edmundson says. She also doesn't expect a young adult without a college education to earn enough in that one year for it to make a major difference in the amount of financial aid he or she could get.

If a young adult takes a year off and does nothing, that's questionable, she says.

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