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The Gap-Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off Before or During College Paperback – July 14, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson have a combined forty years of experience in the fields of education policy and practice. Karl Haigler has served as director of the Adult Literacy Initiative for the U.S. Department of Education and as special advisor to the Governor of Mississippi on literacy issues. Rae Nelson served as associate director for Education Policy at the White House. They live in Advance, North Carolina.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Gap-Year Advantage
Introduction: Intrepid Pathways
"I'M NOT SURE I want to go to college next year."
This was the first indication we had that our eighteen-year-old son, Adam, although accepted by selective colleges, was considering stepping off the traditional road of education to journey down a path less traveled.
"But I do have an idea of what I want to do!" he continued. Adam was inspired by a graduate of a school in his district who had taken time off before college to participate in a community service program called City Year. The young man, Matt Hendren, had returned to his alma mater and dropped by Adam's government and politics class to talk about his experiences.
"I was about to enroll in an excellent but very large university," Matt Hendren reported. "I didn't have the focus or exposure to seek out what I wanted to do. If you have any doubt that you will succeed, take time off to ensure you will succeed. Forme, City Year was the perfect mix of teaching, learning, exposure to the real world, and responsibility. Taking time off and serving through City Year was the best decision of my life." Matt's description of teaching fourth-graders in a rooftop garden in Boston, Massachusetts, sparked an interest in Adam that was more relevant and focused than his vision of spending at least four more years sitting in classrooms.
While Adam spoke convincingly about how taking time off might be the right option for him, we recalled a time not too long ago when some in our generation had acted on President Kennedy's assertion that "one person can make a difference and every person should try" through the Peace Corps or Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA). And many more of us--at least those not called by military service--had heard the words but continued unquestioningly and dutifully down the road prescribed by our schools, our parents, and our society. We also recalled conversations with a few peers who chose to set forth in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s on gap-year opportunities before or during college. They--like Adam's City Year schoolmate--considered the experience powerful, pivotal, and life changing.
As Adam wondered about the options that might be open to him if he took time off, Karl recalled how, more than twenty years earlier, as a principal of Heathwood Hall in South Carolina, several of his students had questioned whether they were ready for college ... yet. At that time, he had a fortuitous encounter with Cornelius "Neil" Bull, an educator and visionary, who made the case that there were alternatives to going straight to college for students who were prepared to choose them.
Inspired by Adam's interest, we made a quick search of the Internet. We found that Neil Bull's vision had grown into theCenter for Interim Programs, LLC, located in Princeton, New Jersey, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Interim is a locus for helping thousands of students design and implement customized gap-year strategies. Soon Adam was on a conference call with Holly Bull, Neil's daughter and the Center's interim president. She described the myriad opportunities open to him if he was interested in pursuing intrepid pathways.
As we grew accustomed to the prospect of Adam's stepping off the beaten track to college, we were reassured by the examples of other families who had been the beneficiaries of the Interim experience. Holly (like her father before her) ensured our involvement every step along the way, delving into our view of Adam's options--and particularly reinforcing his college goals as an integral part of an overall plan. By the time of our initial phone interview with Holly, we believed Adam was prepared, along with us, to consider the prospects of taking time off as part of his educational and (perhaps) life goals.
"Would you like to work with a group in Central America? Explore where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand? Volunteer as a forest ranger in the Redwoods? Teach environmental studies in Appalachia? Intern with the British parliament?" Adam's eyes grew wide as Holly was able to connect with exactly what Adam was hoping for: These were his options! He did have choices!
What emerged from these conference calls--and the conversations we had with Adam around them--was a plan for an "extra-curriculum" sequence of events that, combined, would last a year or more. Adam's gap experiences would begin with a weeklong outdoor education program in New Jersey at Tom Brown, Jr.'s Tracker School and then would take him overseas to teach in Costa Rica and to work on an environmental preserve in New Zealand, finally leading him to a job in Texas as aninstructor in environmental education. Holly's sense of Adam's goals provided a rationale for each program he considered and its respective place in the overall plan.
The first stage in Adam's international journey was ten weeks living with a host family in a small mountain village in Costa Rica and teaching English with another volunteer in the local elementary school through a program called Global Routes. The growth, maturity, and perspective that he gained were evident to us in numerous ways, but can be illustrated through e-mails written at that time. He discovered through working with kids who were incredibly excited about learning that teaching was his calling. His fluency in Spanish grew exponentially as he became immersed in the life of the village.
He also gained a perspective on the value of resources. "In my school there is absolutely nothing," he wrote in one e-mail. He proposed to develop a fund for textbooks and scholarships. "Tons of the kids here want to go to school but can't go past sixth grade because of the lack of funds," he relayed. "Their hunger for learning and teaching in Costa Rica is awesome and has totally changed my view on education." During his time in Central America, he managed to raise more than two thousand dollars for books and scholarships, mostly through contacts at his former high school.
Last Thanksgiving, he sent this e-mail to his family: "It's amazing that this part of my life is about to end. It seems like a few days ago that I arrived in San José, and now I'm five days away from leaving. This experience has been the best thing that ever happened to me, and I appreciate all the support you all gave me throughout. My village will be forever thankful to you guys, and you can know that you really have made friends in Costa Rica."
The e-mails and the stories he has shared since provide only a hint of the breadth and depth of Adam's experiences and the strength of the bonds he developed with his host family, his students, and his peers in the Global Routes program.
Adam's experiences were eye-opening to us, as parents, and we continue to be amazed and inspired by Adam's growth, development, and contributions during and after his time-off experiences. As Adam learned, so did we.
With a combined forty years of experience in public policy, we have been able to contribute to debates and initiatives regarding what can be done to improve educational outcomes for students. As teachers and parents, we've had the opportunity to help guide students in their options regarding post-high school choices. But, as effective educators will confide, the right personal stories can be extremely instructive. And we've rarely encountered stories as powerful as those of students who've taken time off before or during college. They have been able to learn more about themselves, and, at an age when many still call them kids, they have given back to the world in ways many adults could not even imagine.
This book is based on the stories of the dozens of students we've met and interviewed who've chosen to follow their own intrepid paths. It also is based on the experiences of dozens more families, counselors, program leaders, teachers, and other educators who have supported them along the way. The examples and practical advice in these pages are offered in the hope that many other young Americans and their families will step off the traditional road and benefit from the gap-year advantage--and come to believe, as we do, that we can all gain a better perspective on our place in the world and the wisdom that will help us in our journey through it.
We look forward to hearing more stories and learning of your journeys in the months and years ahead.
Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson Advance, North Carolina 2005
Reality Check
You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.
THE STAKES ARE HIGH for the almost fifteen million high school students who will return to classrooms this fall, most with the goal of attending a college or university immediately after graduation. Armed with guides, marketing brochures, and Web site information, parents will diligently do what they can to see that their child's class rank is advanced, SAT and ACT scores are maximized, and extracurricular activities are amassed--whatever it takes to ensure that their child is accepted into the right college.
Come spring, acceptance letters will be received at homes across the country as students and parents wait--anxiously, expectantly--to see which colleges have said yes.
Congratulations! The chances are good that your child has gotten into at least one school. The more than two thousand days he or she has spent in classrooms, and the time, energy, and resources you have devoted to the application process have paidoff. Many parents will breathe a sigh of relief. Their child has been accepted at college! And now he or she is one step closer to realizing their part of the American Dream.
Five years from now, however, many students and their parents may wish they had focused as much on ...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (August 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312336985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312336981
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Moore on December 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
'The Gap-Year Advantage: Helping your Child Benefit from Time Off Before or During College,' by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, is one of those unconventional offerings in the social-educational sphere that has the potential to ignite a mini-revolution and transform our society by changing the lives of individual young people in profound ways.

Today we never stop telling our kids how intelligent they are, how lucky they are to live in such a mobile, technologically advanced, and affluent society. Yet for all its abundance and limitless choices, today's world poses extraordinary challenges to our children. The ancient verities and old certainties are gone, leaving many kids confused, aimless, even self-destructive. The family, cultural, and societal norms that once helped them mature into functional adults have changed radically. We expect our children to go through twelve intensive years of primary and secondary school and then head off to college, now an absolute prerequisite for middle-class status and economic security.

Yet think for a moment what those twelve years do to our children. With few exceptions, the U.S. school system is based on the Prussian model imported by Horace Mann and Thomas Dewey in the late 19th Century, a system designed to mold obedient soldiers and acquiescent factory workers in the service of the Prussian state. Kids must endure a rigidly prescribed curriculum ladled out to them in regular fifty-minute intervals, during which they must sit obediently and receive spoon-fed knowledge passively, interrupted only by rigidly prescribed exams.
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I have to disagree slightly with the other reviews here. I did not find that this was an excellent book, it was fair given my expectations, and there are many good lists of resources, organizations, and websites for options once you have decided to do a gap year or year off.

What I found missing in this book was a good discussion on the decision to take a gap year or year off. This may only apply to some people but I would think that a significant number of readers would be involved in the stage of trying to decide if a gap year is a good idea for them or their children. This is stage we are at and I did not find much in this book to stimulate ideas for progress in that decision process other than a few references to gap year consultant groups and some brief personal accounts of how students had decided themselves.

I will have to continue to search for information about how to help our son make this decision but once it is made this book will be a good resource for how to do the gap year.
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Gives a soup-to-nuts overview of the options available for making full use of a gap year. Makes a good conversation starter to engage your child. I haven't checked out the resources, but I'm now confident that such resources exist (from cheap/free to more expensive options). Fast read.
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I ordered this hoping to get a broad sampling of gap-year alternatives. While the book provided some lists that included affordable options such as City Year and AmeriCorp, the profiles of students were those who had lots of family money to travel/live internationally. Maybe unintentionally, the book puts the gap-year option in the realm of the affluent, and of the exceptionally bright, independent student.
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