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The Gap Year: The Essential Thread

The skills learned during a gap year are powerful tools for making the college experience truly valuable and relevant for future career building. There is a particular urgency in gaining and applying these skills because what students do today will not only determine their post-secondary lives, but impact future generations.

What Gen Zers need to thrive now, in college, and throughout their lives includes critical thinking, creativity, ingenuity, curiosity, collaboration, forward-thinking, adaptability, and flexibility, remarks Jake Horne, a college and career mentor for Gen Z students, and founder of The Student Compass in Washington.

“These are uniquely human skills which digital machines, Artificial Intelligence, and neural networks just don’t have,” Horne notes. “It is up to humans to direct the use of technology for human benefit, not the other way around. If decisions are well thought out, the trajectory of our complex society will determine the sort of world future generations will inherit. The near future of the Gen Z generation and the future of distant generations will be founded by how present generations decide to act. Like America’s Founding Mothers and Fathers, who created the incredible system we enjoy today, 250 years later.”

Faced with “cascading change, vast, complex transformations, and enormous challenges and threats facing humans—such as climate change, exponential technology evolution, social media driven disruption of social truths, facts, and eroding ethical standards—these skills need to be deeply learned before college, if this generation is going to thrive, as well as determine the fate of future generations,” Horne notes.

However, these are the very skills that schools are not teaching, he cautions: “What ideas students are learning in school and college are not applied to real life. True learning is experiential, where ideas are applied to real life demands and complications. Taking a gap year is the ultimate hack to discovering talents and capabilities essential for thriving in this new world of transformative expectations.”

Until high school graduation, adolescent lives are circumscribed by others’ wishes and expectations, including parents, relatives, teachers, and coaches. The gap year is the first time students are able to be independent, Horne explains. Able to direct their own decisions and take responsibility; to achieve “self-agency.”

“High school graduation should be the beginning of a universal transition, “a rite of passage,” from childhood to adulthood, guided by their own instincts, self-direction, and responsibility for owning their actions,” Horne notes. “It is critical to do this before college, in order to make the most of college experience.”

The transition occurs optimally through learning by doing, by stepping out into new experiences, cultures, and communities of people from around the world. 

“The aspects of who they are, the talents, skills, and capability that they can acquire and build on can truly only be acquired into their expanding mindset by stretching out, taking risks through actions, making mistakes, adjusting their thinking, and learning to be adaptive and flexible,” Horne reflects. “They can really only do this by taking a gap year.”—


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