It was first implemented in 1949 after the second World War when it was arranged for German youth come to the US for a year and stay with an American host family while completing high school, as a way for the younger emerging generations to help restore the trust and relationships between Germany and the US that had been broken during the war. The goal was to dislodge the post-war tensions and to redevelop peaceful intercultural relationships and connections that had been broken during the war. (History of Gap Year – ICYE and Educaton Week Review)
These ideals of peace, reconciliation, and intercultural learning that were valued during that time are still an essential part of the gap year today. Gap years are designed for personal growth and allow students to make connections, help develop peaceful relations, and promote intercultural understanding in a way that cannot compare to what is taught in a classroom. Gap years also provide opportunities to explore new careers, learn new skills, and develop language competencies.
Students meet unique challenges that they are able to solve by immersing themselves in different cultures, finding their passions, and getting to go on a once in a lifetime adventure in the prime time of their lives. With so many different options and programs for gap year students to choose, as well as gap year counselors who assist students in planning their year, the opportunity for self growth is endless. It is inevitable that students who take a gap year will only benefit from this opportunity and will return energized, focused, and motivated.
With recent endorsements from many institutions and college administrators including William Fitzsimmons, the Dean of Admissions at Harvard University, and studies from Mr. Robert Clagett, former Middlebury Dean of Admissions, showing that at Middlebury college specifically, students who took a gap year consistently had higher GPAs than those who did not. There are also studies showing that taking a gap year helps students find their passions and help them decide what they want to study in college, an advantage because this will reduce coursework load, tuition bills, and ultimately give students more time to do what they are passionate about. Many students also report taking a gap year helps tackle the burnout many feel after completing high school after endless standardized tests, college applications, and school course loads. It allows students to develop life skills and experiences that are professionally relevant.
In addition, in an increasingly competitive world, taking a gap year helps students set them apart from their peers. Gap year students acquire skills that aren’t teachable in a traditional classroom setting, and they are able to contribute unique experience and problem solving skills. Gap year participants become confident leaders, and are easily able to adapt and manage different situations and develop a different mindset, which is something very valuable today.
Gap years open up an entire world of opportunities and give students an opportunity to be different. In a world where the expectation that students are always working for the next best thing and the intense pressure to live up to other people’s’ expectations, taking a gap year allows students to step back, break the cycle, appreciate the world in an entirely new perspective, and gain a professional and social mindset that stands out and makes them become a very valuable and coveted member of the work force.
United Planet currently runs one of the oldest long-term gap year programs in existence today, founded in 1949. Please visit our Gap Year Volunteering page to learn more.