STOWE — Lauren Johnson, a 2017 graduate of Essex Union High School, decided not to take the expected route from high school to college but rather to take a “gap” year and use the time to figure out what was best for her future. That decision, she said, is one of the best she has ever made.
“I decided to do a gap year because I had a rough senior year of high school and I knew that I was not emotionally or mentally ready for college. Taking a gap year allowed me to take time and reflect on what I wanted out of life and for what I had a true and deep passion,” she said.
Johnson enters the University of Vermont Honors Program later this month.
Her gap year included a job in retail in Williston, work with Lyric Theater in Burlington, and three months of travel through New Zealand and Australia.
“This whole year has been extremely rewarding. I have grown so much more than I could have imagined and have made some amazing lifelong friends along the way,” she said.
Her gap-year journey was guided by Julia Rogers, founder of EnRoute Consulting, a firm dedicated to providing mentorship and logistical support for students like her. According to The Associated Press, 30,000 to 40,000 students take a gap year each year. Rogers works with 40 to 50 students each year. She charges $2,350 for the full year and $1,800 for a half year of planning.
“When gap-year proponents talk about gap time, they are describing a period where the main goal is the development of one’s life and career skills through deliberate exploration,” Rogers said. “Students can design their own gap years, but what (certified gap-year counselors) do is eliminate the uncertainty and make sure their experiences are positive.”
“I definitely could not have gotten through this gap year without Julia. She worked so hard to make sure that I was getting everything out of this year that I wanted to, and then some. More than anything, Julia provided me and my family with peace of mind. Without her, we would have been so lost during this whole process,” Johnson said.
Rogers, of Stowe, is in her 10th year guiding students through their gap years. She got the idea when she was a young college graduate on a post gap year in Africa. Although her experience was generally positive, she realized that there was a lot about travel in Africa that she did not know and, with proper guidance, she could have avoided some of the missteps along her journey.
What Rogers does is guide the student and their parents through “the complicated process of planning and successfully executing a gap year.”
“We get to know them and discuss the variety of options available. After developing a budget and goals we create a menu of options tailored to the student’s individual goals,” she said.
Julia has helped students experience their gap years in over 40 countries. Some examples include an internship at a radio station in Ghana; volunteering with a human-wildlife conflict prevention project in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya; studying Arabic in Morocco while living with a host family; teaching health education Tanzania with a focus on HIV/AIDS; assisting climate change scientists investigating climate change while aboard an ice breaker patrol vessel in the South Atlantic Ocean in Antarctica; and shadowing as a medical intern in a rural Himalayan medical clinic.
For students who want a gap year but aren't able to afford one, which can cost upwards of $15,000 for a semester, Rogers said there are lower-cost alternatives.
“It’s important to know that a meaningful gap year can be achieved no matter what the budget, since affordable opportunities abound and financial aid/scholarship support is also available.”
In Greece, a student can work on an olive harvest in seaside Peloponnese and receive room and board as well as plenty of time to explore the surrounding area. In Switzerland, a gap student can work at a ski area in the Alps.
A study from National Center for Education Statistics sites a potential downside to gap year students. According to NCES study, students who choose to delay college are at considerable risk of not completing a postsecondary credential when compared with student who go directly from high school to college.
The Gap Year Association, based in Portland, Oregon, counters that argument.
“Taking a Gap Year is a great opportunity for young people to broaden their horizons, making them more mature and responsible citizens. To date, much anecdotal evidence as well as some peer-reviewed studies have identified positive effects associated with participation,” it has posted on its website.
Rogers founded EnRoute Consulting in 2008. In 2017, she was awarded the first-ever Gap Year Association award in innovation for her work in the gap year industry.
Originally from New Jersey, Rogers has lived in the UK, Maine, Tennessee, Montana, Wyoming and Tanzania. She now resides in Stowe with her husband Tom and daughters, Nora and Claire. She and her family frequently embark on research trips to personally investigate gap-year program locations.
Rogers is planning to launch a podcast next month called "Gap Year Radio" which will feature alumni interviews and gap-year experts to share information in how to plan and execute. Although EnRoute Consulting is based in Stowe, Rogers works with students from all across the country.
“Electing to take a gap year or career break is a bold and exciting decision,” Rogers said. When their year is done almost all of the students “return with a greater breadth of life experiences and lasting memories.”
Learn more atenroutegapyear.com