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VOL. 126 | NO. 41 | Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Opportunities Abound for Gap-Year Students

JOHN LINTNER | Special to The Daily News

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With graduation looming this spring, more high school seniors might be planning to take a gap year before they embark on their college careers, and local colleges are reaching out with marketing strategies to cater to their needs.

A popular practice abroad for many years – and now finding popularity in the U.S. – a gap year is defined as a year off between high school and college, or a break later in college, for students to decide the direction they’d like to take in their careers.

A recent survey of 300,000 first-time freshmen at four-year colleges and universities revealed that 1.2 percent of those students waited a year to enter college, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Visible School in Memphis is aware of this demographic and reaches out to prospective “gappers” through a one-year certificate program, which has some students heading in a new direction altogether.

“Being at Visible School gave me a clear vision of who I am as a person, musician and Christian,” said Kelly McVicar, a 20-year-old New Yorker who enrolled in Visible School’s one-year certificate program in modern music ministry, as opposed to pursuing a career in photography. “You learn so much about yourself and grow in so many areas during your time here. Each class brings you closer to your goals, and your time here allows you to figure out your purpose in life – in school and in your career.”

Visible School enrolls gap-year students from all over the world. The college hosts a summer training program in Germany and Belgium, known as Visible Music Instructive, that is a condensed version of the music and worship arts college designed to introduce teens to its program and draw in full-time and gap-year students from abroad.

“Visible School’s one-year certificate program offers an intense 40 credit hours,” said Ken Steorts, founder and president of Visible School.

“We felt like this would be a good way to reach out to students looking to take a gap year.”

Past gap-year students have primarily been from the United Kingdom, but more recently, Visible School has seen students from across the United States taking advantage of this option.

“We are working to continue attracting gap-year students,” Steorts added. “The time that they spend here will roll into their bachelor’s degree if they decide to stay, and that works to their advantage. Visible School is kind of like rock ‘n’ roll college, but its also intense academic and ministry training. It’s definitely not just a year of writing poetry.”

A wide variety of gap-year opportunities exist, ranging from niche colleges like Visible School or volunteering abroad, to simply working at a coffee shop for a year to earn tuition.

While such years can be beneficial, there are risks involved.

A year’s hiatus from college for the student who is not very well adjusted could spell doom.

According to another survey by HERI in 2010, first-year college students rated their emotional health at an all-time low. All things considered, taking a gap year requires some strategic planning.

“We certainly do not discourage a gap year, and can see how it might be valuable, especially if a student happens to be younger than most of their classmates and if they are looking for a chance to ‘live’ a little before moving on to college,” said Carey Thompson, vice president of enrollment and communications at Rhodes College. “However, we do not actively promote the idea. As with any decision related to career and college, it is an individual choice, one that requires careful thinking, planning and follow-through. We are happy to sit down with students and families to discuss the idea and help them make a good choice.”

Gap years can be costly, but there are some affordable options out there, like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, which is like Peace Corps in the teaching and development of needy communities, but for the most part, is centered in America except for one program in South Africa.

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