Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Apr 17, 2010

(book review) The Complete Guide to the Gap Year

Instructor, Caroline Bender

It is Spring in the hearts and minds of high school graduates and their parents everywhere.  In many homes, the arrival of the daily mail is a reason for gathering – sorting the fat envelopes from the skinny ones.  It is a bleak job market these new grads face.  Sadly, college may not be an immediate option for some of them, whose family future planning has been altered by unforeseen financial hardships.

The Class of 2010 may turn to the Gap Year in higher numbers than we have seen since draft deferments put working post-adolescence out of fashion.  For those considering time off between High School and College (or wondering if the investment of college will yield any higher rewards than not-college in the high-tech information/service sector age), The Finishing School recommends Kristen M White’s The Complete Guide to the Gap Year.

There are many such volumes produced every few years.  (You will see another 2009 guide in our book carousel at right).  As you might expect, reference like this are difficult to keep up to date, so you want to be sure you are selecing as current a version as you can before you call WorldCom about their entree level rotation program.  White's volume is about 40% directory, and a wide-range of opportunities it is, too -- including international service organizations, adventure-based leadership experiences, sports, academic, environmental, and language study.

The opening section breaks down the Gap Year decision and how to make it, establishing first and formost that is is not a vacation.  The Obama Administration's encouragement of a Service Year for all Americans has created new opportunities and highlighted long-standing ones such as AmeriCorps and the NCCC.  White writes that the Obama Administration "will also offer a $4000 tax credit in exchange for one hundred hours of public service per year, which will put the volunteer gap year within reach for many, many more students." (p 19)  The American Opportunity Tax Credit is part of the ARRA ("the stimulus"), and you can find out more here.

This book is written for serious-minded young people, and assumes a level of commitment and maturity of its reader.  Compared to the typical high school textbook, The Complete Guide seems almost dull, as if the author expects the student might only be reading one idea at a time!  Do not expect a lot of worksheets, assessments, CD-ROM companion videos or keywords in margin notes.  In fact, don't expect photographs and illustrations -- there are a few sidebars and one "ask yourself" box, but generally, this is straight information, delivered plainly.  Parents may wish to work through this with their student if s/he is not one to sit still for a 19-page opening chapter with only one "personal profile box."

You'll want to jump first to the Chapter Financing Your Gap Year for a breakdown of programs that are acually Free, Low-Cost, or federally assisted, and to learn more about scholarships, loans and grants for gap year experiences, support for sibling overlap (if your gap eventually  puts you and your brother in college at the same time, for example), an understanding of the tax deduction, and suggestions on extended health insurance.  With the financial fears addressed, you will be more open to the rest of White's message.

Most importantly, she explores the benefits of a year's experience -- a bridge or foundation year more than something to fill "a gap."  This is a real life-skill and career building option for today's graduate, which should not be dismissed as frivilous or unaffordable.

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