Where has the Gap Year gone and is it coming back?

Last year A-level results were announced and the media picked up on the rise of the ‘micro Gap Year’ or ‘gap month’ and here at Art History Abroad we also saw that trend with an increasing proportion of British students opting for our shorter summer programmes. British students of Generation Z are thinking about travel differently; looking for internships and work experience rather than backpacking through distant lands. Students seem to be taking less time off and packing more into this precious time, as they prioritise salary and CV-boosting activities.

Meanwhile more and more young Americans are taking a Gap Year. In 2012 the Gap Year Association (GYA) was founded in the USA and has helped promote a steady rise in the number of students taking a Gap Year. In May 2016 the Obama’s announced their daughter, Malia, would take a year off before Harvard and ‘What is a Gap Year’ became the most googled question of the day. With the rise of responsible tourism, experiential education and a better awareness of mental health, the Gap Year is emerging as an increasingly popular choice, but with a new zest.

Our friends across the pond have injected their earnest enthusiasm into progressing the Gap Year into a cohesive and exciting movement. The best kind of Americans have taken their positive, can-do attitude and pushed back against the stigma of Gap Years to create a progressive, inclusive community. In 2016 over $4.2M worth of scholarships and needs-based grants were awarded to students by members of the Gap Year Association, making options much more available and affordable, and we hope to see this trend continue. We are delighted to have launched a new Music Scholarship this year to complement the Sir Trenchard Cox Scholarship which we have now been running for 23 years! Last year we also co-sponsored Lauren Anderson who won the USA Gap Year Fair Student Ambassador Scholarship.

Top universities are recognising an increase in student success and a decrease in their drop-out rates post Gap Year and are now endorsing the idea, even enforcing it. Fred A. Hargadon, former Dean of Admissions at Princeton University said “I am convinced that one’s college education is greatly enhanced by the maturity, experience, and perspective a student can bring post gap year.” This perspective has been celebrated in the UK for many years, “Generally, I think it’s a really good idea,” Delyth Chambers, director of student recruitment at the University of Warwick. “Young people mature a lot during their year out.” A survey of students from 2017 to the present tells us that after completing an Art History Abroad Gap Year Course 88% of students feel more prepared for university with 97% stating that they felt more confident outside the classroom setting.

It is a global truth that 18 year olds graduating school are facing the highest levels of mental health problems, burn-out and frustration with the status quo. As our screens fill with news of wars, extreme politics and the climate crisis can you blame them?! Dare we say it – what is really needed is a chance to switch off – the news, our phones, social media and the impending responsibilities of adulthood. Perhaps taking a chance to remember the joys of life, of trying something new, and discovering new cultures is more crucial than ever, be that at home or abroad.

Holly Morrison, tutor at Art History Abroad