This month is National Scholarship Month so I thought I’d put a little spin on the ‘Gap Year’ concept and how to treat it as you might treat winning a scholarship. I have three teenagers – ages 14, 16 and 18 – and a lot of the conversation these days is about colleges, majors and scholarships. My oldest graduated from high school last spring knowing that in our family you do a gap year between high school and college. That concept was introduced to me by several years living in Europe where most students do internships and a Gap Year before starting college.

My reasons for suggesting the concept to my husband, around the time our oldest started kindergarten, was two-fold: first, I liked the idea of our kids getting the chance to experience life after high school without the academic pressures that college brings; second, I thought it would reduce the chances that they started their freshman year in college majoring in beers and bong hits. So, from the start, our kids have always known they would do a Gap Year.

Fast forward 12 years….as high school graduation approached, our oldest son began to say things like “why do I HAVE to do a gap year” and “none of my friends are doing gap years.” I explained that the gap year was designed to give him a once-in-a lifetime experience without the obligations of college, work or a family of his own and that we, his parents, wanted him to do something that inspired him, something that he loved, something that, upon reflection, was truly awesome. It was HIS gap year, we explained, and we wanted him to own it. And, no, there was not an “I’ll live at home and see what happens” option. We agreed that he would present his plan to us in two months, asking him to include educational, work and volunteer components along with a budget. In a moment of rarity, I said something that seemed to resonate with him: “Think of it like winning a scholarship – a scholarship that allows you to do what you want (within reason) for a year.”

There are plenty of high-cost gap year programs for those interested. Just Google gap year programs and you’ll see an abundance of results. But, with a little bit of creativity, you can create your own gap year on scholarship.

Two months later, my son sat us down and laid out his plan. He had spoken with the owner of the restaurant where he worked on Sundays and had landed full-time work after graduation for the entire summer – check. He wanted to get certified in a certain type of musical equipment and production that had been his hobby the past couple of years. There was a school for this in NYC where my brother and his family live so there would be no housing costs – ok. He thought that volunteering in South Africa would be ‘cool’ – cool, yes, financially feasible, probably not, being that the volunteer programs that interested him started around $13k! I suggested a German language immersion program that had a volunteerism component in a city where we had friends with whom he could stay and we negotiated Germany in lieu of Johannesburg.

He agreed that he would complete his re-admission applications for college by the early admission dates so that we would all know the college plan before the New Year. (Most schools will allow you to defer for a semester but not for a year.) Next, we walked through the numbers. He would need to work 40 hours a week all summer in order to have spending money and his scholarship would cover books, fees and coach travel. Voila! Or maybe I should say, ‘Ja Wohl!’

As I write this, our son is two months in to his gap year. He has been living in a tiny bit of space in my brother’s NYC apartment. He has a loft bed that sits above his desk. If he were to sit up in the night, he would smack his face on the ceiling. He is in heaven. He has not missed a class, is not late and is joyful. He is animated and connected on our Sunday afternoon Skype calls. In January, he flies to Germany for phase II and I’ll write about that, too. A gap year can be a great experience, and like many things, can be done on a budget – or in this case with a family-provided scholarship.


– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO