A valuable opportunity: The experience of gap years beyond Huron


Courtesy of Kristen Clyde

Clyde and her co-workers at The House of Ride Nature in Fort Meyers, Florida making a platform on the mini ramp.

Jaden Boster, Staff Writer

Huron High School juniors and seniors are preparing for their future in the midst of a pandemic, looking at college visits, applications, acceptance letters, vocational schools and gap year programs. Post graduation plans might need to look different with social distancing, virtual learning, less in-person opportunities and restricted campus visits. In addition, Huron students have not attended in-person classes in a full year. These elements may cause some students to evaluate what comes next in a new way. 

According to Overseas Gap Year Consultant Julia Rogers, a gap year program could be a helpful transition from high school to college. 

“A gap year is an intentional break from formal education to pursue personal, practical and  professional areas of interest,” Rogers said. “Students take gap time for many different reasons: to explore possible careers, to take a break and recharge or to explore the world and learn new things. Many gap year programs come with opportunities to earn college credits and are welcomed experiences by many universities. It’s fairly common to have a student apply for both a gap year program and universities at the same time. Then the student defers the university acceptance to pursue the gap year program before attending a traditional college.”

Kristen Clyde, a Huron High School graduate, chose to take a gap year because she was having health issues and was not academically motivated. She felt she needed to take time after high school before going on to college. 

Clyde did not do a specific gap year program; instead, she participated in many small program-like experiences. 

“Right after graduating, I went to Gold Creek, Montana to be a cabin counselor at Camp to Make a Dream (a camp for cancer patients) for a month,” Clyde said. “Next, I worked for a skateboarding ministry for three months in Fort Myers, Florida. I interned at the Ride Nature coffee/surf/skate shop and held Bible studies at skate parks a few days per week. After my internship, I nannied for two different families, which I really enjoyed doing, as well.” 

Clyde poses at Edge Skatepark in a weekly skate church event. (Courtesy of Kristen Clyde)

Through these experiences, Clyde learned lots of valuable lessons that would have been most likely missed if she chose to not take a gap year.

 “I learned a lot about what I am passionate about and I learned how to live on my own,” Clyde said. “I had an emergency surgery in Florida during my internship and I learned how to network and get the help I needed. I also learned that everyone has their own path and just because it is traditional to go straight to college, does not mean it is what is best for you. I also learned a lot about myself and regained my identity after losing a lot of confidence because of my not-so-great high school career.” 

With the uncertainty of colleges inviting students back on campus, Rogers encourages students to see the benefits of a gap year.  

“In light of the pandemic, college is a tremendous investment, and the overall cost is not changing in the face of COVID,” Rogers said. “That means you are still paying top dollar — or close to it — for an abnormal college experience. There is also a lot of uncertainty around if college campuses can stay open. This uncertainty, combined with the high cost of attending ‘Zoom University’ makes a gap year an attractive choice for many students. A gap year takes that uncertainty and turns it into opportunity.”

 This less typical approach to post graduation plans allows for another year to pass and more of the pandemic restrictions to be altered. A student would likely be able to have a less restricted experience with a gap year program given the small groups and unique settings they provide. The student could then pursue college with more opportunities for a traditional college experience the following year as the conditions of the pandemic lessen. 

Huron High School counselors connect students with opportunities available to them post graduation. The current approach is primarily in the form of virtual college fairs and virtual gap year program fairs.

Both Clyde and one of her housemates, Kenz, celebrate at a Halloween party at the skate shop where they worked. (Courtesy of Kristen Clyde)

“I think every student should explore and consider every option they have available to them, whether that’s an apprenticeship, a two-year college, a four-year university, the military, a gap year program or straight to employment,” Huron High School guidance counselor Heather Potocki said. “Students need to find the path that will work for them and what they need and want out of life. Formalized Gap Year Programs allow students an opportunity to pause their formal education plans for a year to gain experiences and knowledge that a classroom cannot provide. Students can get a sense of accomplishment in the form of real-world experiences, grow and develop real life skills and stress management.”

The added benefit to learning life skills in a gap year program translate well to skills needed for a successful college experience. Many gap year students enter their college experience more prepared than their peers without gap year experiences.

“Gap year students are found to have higher GPAs and graduate sooner than traditional students,”  Rogers said. “Gap year students report higher job satisfaction later in life.”

There are certainly cons and risks to pursuing a gap year experience.

 “There are a lot of unknowns in choosing a Gap Year Program, which can be scary in an already anxiety-inducing time of life,” Potocki said. “There is no guarantee that one will have a positive experience with the Gap Year Program.” Potocki said.

Rogers gave some examples of the very possible risks. 

Some colleges aren’t allowing deferral of acceptance, deferring college can jeopardize some types of private financial aid, parents might not support their child pursuing a gap year program, and if the student is not motivated to make the gap year meaningful, it could be a waste of time,” Rogers said.

A student pursuing a gap year would need to carefully consider all the benefits and risks of the program before deciding.

Clyde and her boss at Ride Nature showing off their overalls outside the shop. (Courtesy of Kristen Clyde)

Clyde had reservations about taking a gap year as most people do. 

“I was worried that I would feel like I was not in the same phase of life as people my age and that I would struggle with a sense of direction and purpose,” Clyde said. 

These worries are common to most students considering an alternative route to college. Clyde found that in her experience her reservations were irrelevant by the end of her gap year she had gained so much that she was grateful for the experience. 

Huron students interested in learning more about formal gap year programs should check out the following cites. Gap Year Program Resource provided by Potocki:  GoOverseas.com. Gap Year Program Resources provided by Rogers: Gap Year Association  – program listings and planning guide, USA Gap Year Fairs run virtual information sessions and fairs,  Gap Year Radio podcast – a podcast that profiles gap year alums, Election 2020 Gap Year – resources and info for students who want to focus on election work during their gap time, GapYearly student run site about gap years.