When our daughter was a senior at a highly competitive boarding school, where she had been a campus leader and very strong student, she lobbed the idea of a gap year for her to us. She sounded quite definite about her wishes, and we felt that given her track record for achievement and self direction, we needed to support her.
We did have a few stipulations:
1. Whatever she did, she needed to support herself– though we would continue to pay for her health and car insurance.
2. Wherever she went, she needed to live with a well screened family, not in a fourth floor walk up in some downtrodden section of a city.
3. She had to make all of her own plans.
4. No “programs.”
5. She needed a goal.
“No problem,” she said, and off she went with her thinking. Her fist stop was a self inventory of her interests and things she loved. That immediately brought her to: the American west and music. She worked from there. Seven months of her gap year were spent at a 20,000 acre working cattle ranch in Montana, where she did everything from making beds for guests, tacking up horses and introducing a group to the art of cattle driving, to fixing barbed wire fence. In her college essay about the experience, she wrote, “The hardest part of my job was trying to read my boss’s mind.” She learned to hear the unsaid, read between the lines, improvise, and anticipate.
For the next five months she lived with a family in Nashville whom she found through her school’s alumni office, but did not know in advance. She helped with their two daughters in exchange for room and board. While working on her own song writing and completing a CD of her own music, she babysat, dog sat, and read voraciously.
Her summer before the start of college, she worked for a construction crew. One of her goals had been to “learn how to do things.” She did.
Sarah C. Reese
Executive Director, Informed Educational Solutions