Close the Gap on Gap Years

The gap year, the practice of taking a year off between high school and college, is often reserved for the privileged. Despite the growing diversification of higher education, lower-income students who want to take gap years are still at a disadvantage. Gap years provide a slew of benefits, and many of the nation’s most prestigious colleges have taken a strong stance encouraging students to take a gap year before beginning their college experience.

I believe the Claremont Colleges should create a fund to provide financial aid for underprivileged students who would like to have the experience of a gap year abroad. Such aid would provide those who cannot afford a gap year the opportunity to take a break from their studies and delve into travel and community service.

Gap years allow students to find direction in their lives. Anecdotal evidence collected from college counselors has found that gap years can hone students into more mature, academically motivated scholars. In addition, gap years abroad play a critical role in improving language skills and fostering better understanding of other cultures. In a Middlebury College study, gap-year students were found to have higher GPAs than their traditional counterparts, even after accounting for socioeconomic status and high school success.

The only problem with such gap years and study abroad programs is that they are not available for everyone. The price tag of gap years abroad is staggering; many programs cost thousands of dollars. Gap years, to many families, are unaffordable luxuries.

If created, the 5C fund for helping finance gap years would allow many underprivileged students the opportunity for a gap year. In coordination with other organizations, the 5C scholarship would allow students who cannot afford an entire year abroad the opportunity to do so. An application system could be implemented to ensure that the gap years were spent in a productive fashion. Before the 5C fund gave out money for gap years, the students wishing to take gap years could submit proposals. If accepted, those students could keep records of the trip and incorporate their experiences into a learning outcome.

The result for the 5Cs would be significant, creating a more focused, academically motivated student body. Such a scholarship program would reduce the level of socioeconomic stratification found in those who take gap years abroad and allow more students to partake in edifying gap years.

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