Guest Post: From the Camp Years to a Gap Year

teens at a fork in the road

Guest post by Camille Heidebrecht, a regular contributor Winterline Global EducationShe is an avid freelance writer and parenting blogger. She plans to pass her knowledge of the gap year industry to both high school and college students, including her own teens. @camilleheide

The Progressions of Summer Camp

I distinctly remember my summer camp days as a kid in rural Pennsylvania. For most of each summer, I attended a day camp:  Dodgeball, structured arts and crafts, a packed lunch, and afternoons at the camp pool. It was fun seeing all of my camp friends every day, looking up to my counselors (whose jobs I couldn’t wait to have), and hitting the snack shack at 3:00 p.m.

When I got a little older, I started going to an overnight camp—a big step! I attended the same camp—amazingly, still running since 1935—throughout my middle school and early teenage years. It was still incredibly fun, but also had the added dynamic of independence and personal growth, creating my own schedule of activities, exploring new interests, including theatre arts with a part in the campus production, or choosing to go on a group hike rather than playing baseball. I even learned basic first aid.

Over time, I started packing for camp myself, passing on my budding camp wisdom to the first-time campers, and helping the counselors corral the troops and lead the activities. Each year, I grew in initiative and independence.

In high school, fall sports started in the summer and began to edge out camp. My friends and I were aging out.

Reflecting back, I can see and appreciate how those memories, friendships, and on-site choices helped shape me. The many life skills overnight camp gave me built a tremendous foundation for youth development and skill-building at an early age: Independence, individual decision-making, collaboration, leadership, and “learning by doing,” along with many others. It provided me with true adventure and personal growth in a fun, educational setting. It was also an academic boost—for me, those skills easily translated to college and a professional career.

Introducing the Gap Year

Many students apply to upwards of 15 schools in hopes of landing one of their top-choice schools. Some get in, many don’t. Some are waitlisted and now have to wait, wait, and wait some more in hopes that another student declines acceptance and opens up a spot. For the ones who don’t get in, the question is: What happens next?

For these and the students who just aren’t ready for college, a gap year between high school and college helps define their future goals, passions, and aspirations while exploring and traveling the world. Additionally defined by the American Gap Association (AGA), gap years “deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.” Like camp, but on a much bigger life scale and timeframe! (Note: In addition to gap years, there are a plethora of semester and summer gap programs with the same real-life benefits.)

College administrators (including the Ivies) acknowledge and support the benefits of a gap year. Students return from the gap more mature, revitalized and self-aware, sometimes with a completely different career focus. From camp—to a gap year—to college—and to a career they fully enjoy—a perfect personal transition.

Take a look at some of the testimonials from college administrators in support of a gap year.

AGA goes on to say, “Taking a gap year has been shown to increase college graduation rates, improve GPAs, increase participation in campus activities, and overall increase career satisfaction. Generally, the thinking is that students who take a pause to explore the realities of potential careers and get clear focus on their goals for college will perform better once they matriculate.”

The Gap Year is a Natural Progression from Traditional Camp

If you look back to my personal account of my time at camp, the same themes and benefits prevail, only on a more intense level:

  • Self-discovery: From the beginning, students learn more about themselves, their character, their courage, independence, and leadership. They discover their passions, along with an overall appreciation for what they have, once visiting other countries and understanding their cultures and life customs.
  • Adventure: Some gap year programs are solely focused on adventure travel or elements of it. The thrill of trying something new comes into play with activities like zip-lining, rock climbing, hiking miles in the mountains or rain forest, or working with animals in the safari. It’s an epic journey of a lifetime with no limits.
  • Life-long Friendships: A gap year provides “intentional communities” or cohortsthat forge lasting friendships and personal networks with people from all over the world. After the program, these relationships are maintained.
  • Independence and Individual Decision-making: Simply put, students are charged with taking care of themselves and their belongings during a gap year. And although most gap year programs are fairly structured, there is typically ample time to explore individuality and decide on the activities and travel pursuits they’d like to explore.
  • Collaboration/Leadership/Skill-building: From staying in rustic accommodations to doing physical project labor while working with students from many different countries, students have to step it up, be active participants, and learn from each other. Educational group projects may also be a part of the gap year curriculum in which the project leader must make a plan and take the helm from the “get go.” Students will gain an infinite number of valuable life skills, “learning by doing.” A strong component of conflict resolution is involved in getting along with and working with their peers.
  • A Boost in School Academics: Traveling gives students real-world relevancy to their past and future academic studies. They make sound connections with the abstract concepts they’re reading about in books or hearing in lectures.
  • A Career PathMore often than not, teens start to develop a clearer ideaof the career path they want to pursue. For example, a gap year program may include studying marine conservation that becomes a student’s professional focus.

Believers in camp will recognize that it is the perfect launch experience for students deciding to take a gap year. The same life experiences and personal growth opportunities apply. In turn, a gap year is the perfect “launch experience” to help students be successful in college and their professional career.

Winterline Global Education offers skills-based gap, semester and summer programs for young adults with an adventurous spirit and an interest in the world around them. Participants gain real-world skills to prepare them for college, life and career while traveling the world and exploring their passions.