As the majority of Palo Alto High School seniors graduate and continue on to college next year, a select few are choosing an alternate route: a gap year.

According to the American Gap Association, a gap year is “a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures and experiment with possible careers.”

More Paly students than ever before are electing to take a gap year with a wide variety of destinations and motivations. Some are traveling, some are participating specific programs, some need a break for health reasons and some are pursuing jobs and further education in their specific areas of interest.

“I’m taking a gap year just because I’m burnt out on school,” senior Sam Kelley said. “I think that if I went straight to college from high school I wouldn’t do as well if I took a gap year.”

Taking a gap year is a tough decision, particularly when it means giving up the security of a college commitment. Some Paly students, like Kelley, have chosen to defer from their college of choice. Others, on the other hand are counting on the added interest from a unique gap year to boost their college applications for next year.

Taking a gap year can prove to be both an advantage and disadvantage simultaneously. Unique programs and travel opportunities are often only available during a gap year, and can often leave students feeling more prepared for college.

On the other hand, students who choose to take a year before college will graduate a year after their friends and their unique experiences might leave them feeling out of place in a normal college scenario. Nonetheless, previous Paly graduates returning from gap years often express enthusiasm and contentedness with their decisions.

For example, Paly class of 2013 alum Henry Tucher chose to take a gap year in Colombia and Germany, working in a variety of jobs rather than participating in a specific program.

“During my gap year I worked 7 months for a financial services startup in Colombia and 5 months for an engineering firm in Germany to learn about different businesses and work in Spanish and then German,” Tucher said. “I structured my own gap year instead of signing up for a program, so I had to get these jobs, find out where to live, how to take care of myself and fit into a different culture, and prove that, though I didn’t have a degree or as much experience as my coworkers, I was worth hiring, all of which was difficult in the most rewarding of ways.”

Other graduates chose to defer from their colleges and take a gap year with specific programs to travel with other students in similar situations. No matter what program or adventure they planned, their gap years proved beneficial.

“Taking this gap year was the best decision of my life, so I’m glad to see quite a few Paly students of the class of 2014 are taking them,” said Tucher.

For students who have chosen to take gap years, the year after graduation promises both new experiences and adventures that many of their peers will not experience until after college.

A gap year is not the only way to allow students to experience other cultures and alternate choices and for both those who choose to take one and those who elect not to, the years following graduation promise self discovery and growth.

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