Putting School on Hold

Spending years hittin' the books isn't the best plan for some.  Check out these  worldly alternatives to life in the classroom.

May 22, 2000

Putting School on Hold

Do you ever feel like your life has been planned out for the next 10 years and you can't
do anything about it?  Finish high school, go to college, choose a major, study for
another four years, get a job in the real world, and hole up in a small apartment.  Guess
what?  It doesn't have to be that way.

But I thought it did during my senior year of college.  While my friends were planning
for grad school or interviewing for the perfect job, I couldn't bear to think about my
next step.  I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I didn't feel ready to
make that decision.  I wanted time off to travel, to meet new people, to learn more
about myself.  I wanted independence and a chance to live by my rules.

Most students feel the same way I did a few years ago, says Robert Gilpin, founder of
Time Out Associates (a company that offers consultations to teens wishing to take time
off from school).  "Many high school and college students reach a point where they
realize that another year of school or work is not the right way for them," Gilpin says.  
My case was different because I waited till my college graduation to take time off.  
Most students do it right after graduation from high school or in the middle of their
college career, according to Gilpin.

Close to 2 million teens will graduate from high school this year and very few have
considered alternatives to going to college.  But plunging back into academic life isn't
the best route for everybody.

Some girls have lived in the shadow of their male classmates and want to taste
achievement, independence and adventure.  "Other students need a chance to collect
[themselves], refocus and find a better sense of herself," Gilpin says.

Your teen years are about discovering who you are and what you want out of life.  If
school can't give you those answers, maybe a different kind of experience can.  College
is expensive, so there's no use in enrolling when it's not the right time for you to be
there.  Besides, unhappy students are more likely to fail school.

Convincing Mom and Dad
Once you decide that you're ready to tromp off to Asia or do community service in
South America, you might run into an obstacle-your parents.  Gilpin offers the
following logical arguments to convince Mom and Dad that taking time off is a smart
thing to do.

Colleges Love It  Taking a year to discover something new about the world and yourself
looks great on college applications.  Learning Spanish in Peru or building houses for
the poor in Arkansas will shine brighter than great SAT scores and piano lessons, which
so many other applicants have.  A mature student with real-life experiences has a
clearer ide of what she wants to get out of her education, and people in the admissions
office know it.

It's Cheap  Your parents might fear that they'll have to pay for another year of tuition
if you go abroad for a year.  While some programs do cost a hefty amount, most are on
the lower end.  Some community service programs are paid for by governments, and
work abroad programs allow you to earn money while you're there.  Tuition at foreign
universities is often lower than tuition in the United States, so Mom and Dad can let
you explore and still make their next house payment.

You'll Be More Focused Many parents worry that their kids won't return to their studies
after taking a break from them.  But students who take a break often come back more
focused on their studies, Gilpin says.  If all else fails, you can always negotiate a
summer adventure between school years.

Pick a Program
Now that your parents are on your side, you can figure out how to spend the year and
when the application is due.  If you want to take time off before college, plan on
asking the admissions office if you can wait a year to attend after being accepted.  
Colleges are usually happy to let you start a year late, as long as you give them a good

Finding a program can be easy, given the large number of opportunities available.  
Check out Transitions Abroad, the Time Out Associates Website, and Peterson's to find a
range of study, work, travel and community service program ideas.

Some programs, like Sojourn Nepal and Cultural Homestays International, allow you to
get into another culture while you study abroad.  Career-focused girls can try programs
like Dynamy, which offers internships in various fields.  Do-gooders flock to City Year to
do community service in the United States or Involvement Volunteers to help out in
Australia and around the world.

I worked in Scotland thanks to The British Universities North America Club, and
organization that provides work permits and job-hunting assistance to Americans in the
United Kingdom.  I showed up in Edinburgh with no more than a suitcase and a hotel
reservation and soon had a job and a house-sitting gig.  I traveled and made friends
from Australia, Scotland and England, and even learned to drive on the left side of the
road.  Best of all, I gained confidence and learned that taking risks can be fun.

Three months after I graduated from college in the U.S., I stood on the craggy hills of
Arthur's Seat looking down on Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the waters  of the Firth of Forth leading out to the North Sea.  I knew that for six months this land would
be my home.  I would become a person who belonged here, and I was looking forward
to meeting that person.

by Erica Silverstein, Chick Click

updated: 12 years ago