Increasing number of students take time off from school

More and more high school graduates are packing oversized backpacks to spend a year abroad than are packing boxes for a dorm room.

Counselors and parents across the country are seeing a rising number of students taking a year off of school – or a “gap year” – before heading into their first-year classes.

Eduardo Cortes is one of those students. He spent a year in Europe after high school, working at a pub in London and as a carpenter in Switzerland .

“I got kind of tired of school,” the graphic design junior said, “and I was still undecided on what I wanted to study.”

While taking a year off has always been popular in other countries, such as Mexico, where Cortes is from, the trend is now becoming more widespread in the United States.

Students often spend their gap year exploring their interests and deciding what they want to study. Some schools, like Harvard, recommend a year off for some students before beginning courses .

Cortes said that his time in Europe was the best year of his life so far, and that he learned how to be independent and grow.

He said that, while his dad was concerned about his studies, he said he was eager to go back to school after his year abroad.

St. Paul Highland Park High School counselor Kristian Moe said that while he’s been counseling students for three years, this was the first year he had students considering that year off.

“Kids get so burnt out of the pressure of high school,” he said. “They say ‘Hey, my brain just needs a rest.’ “

Moe said parents are the ones that are worried.

“They’re worried that ‘Oh my gosh, my kid’s taking a year off and they’re never going to want to go back to school,’ ” he said.

However, Moe said that many of the students making the decision to defer college for a year are highly motivated, and that there is a large percentage that will want to come back to school.

While traveling abroad can be expensive, Moe said that students who take a year off and work can benefit financially from their time away from school.

Moe added that students can still apply to college and be accepted. Some colleges allow a yearlong deferment before beginning classes.

Wayne Sigler, director of University admissions , said each applicant’s request for deferment is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and then the University accepts “reasonable” requests.

Sigler said that, while he sees the “gap year” trend on the rise nationwide, the University sees only a small number of students taking that year off before enrollment.

He said the University doesn’t necessarily recommend or oppose the idea of students taking a year off before college.

A year off before Grad School

Heather Fredrickson, a counselor at the St. Paul Campus Career Center , said she tends to encourage taking time off between earning an undergraduate degree and attending graduate school – unless the student has a lot of experience and absolutely needs a graduate degree.

She said she often recommends taking a year off for those students who are “panicking” about picking a career and who often go to graduate school because they’re good at school and because that’s all they know.

Jumping into graduate school will increase debt, and students who aren’t sure they are ready should get practical experience away from school, Fredrickson said.