Ruby Zitzer will graduate from Bozeman High School on Sunday, and instead of heading to college this fall, she plans to take a gap year off from school.
The 18-year-old will join her family for a month-long canoe trip this summer, work as a nanny in Switzerland in September and then travel to Portugal to work on an organic farm for several months, through the nonprofit WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
“It’ll be an adventure,” she said. “The main reason I’m taking a year off is because I have no idea what I want to do.”
Zitzer is one of a growing number of Bozeman High grads who plan to take a gap year, sometimes called a bridge year. It’s a one-year break in what the New York Times dubbed the “Cradle to College to Cubicle to Cemetery” cycle.
It’s a chance for students burnt-out on school to see the world, gain life experience, pursue a passion or work at a real-world job.
Five years ago only “a trickle” of Bozeman High grads took a gap year, but the trend has grown to the point that 22 percent of this year’s grads say they plan to take a year off, said Dianne Corneer, a school counselor. That’s nearly 60 students of the 260 who returned the school survey, out of an estimated 405 seniors graduating in a few days.
“The majority want to work to save money for college,” Corneer said. A few are going on church missions, and others plan to travel. Some said if they don’t know yet what they want to study in college, “it seems a waste of money.”
“Colleges say kids (who take a gap year) are more settled, have a better take on what they want to study, are more mature,” Corneer said.
No one tracks the number of U.S. students taking a gap year – perhaps 2 percent to more than 10 percent defer starting college for any reason, USA Today reported. In Norway and Denmark, 50 percent of college students take a gap year.
Bozeman parents often worry that a year off will derail their kids from college, but Corneer said, “we’ve not found that to be true.” And some colleges actively promote the gap year.
Like Middlebury College in Vermont, which has accepted Patrick Schmidt, 18, a National Merit Scholarship finalist and ace violinist.
“They highly encourage it,” he said.
Schmidt is excited to be heading this summer to the Galapagos Islands with the Bozeman High AP biology class. In the fall he’ll travel to Sienna in Italy’s Tuscany region, to learn Italian in a language immersion program through Montana State University. He can also learn landscape painting, digital photography, Italian cooking, fashion and wine. If he can find a job opening, he also wants to work as a deck hand on a National Geographic eco-tourism cruise.
“I’d like to speak Italian,” Schmidt said. Once he returns to college, he may major in languages or engineering.
Sumner Lawson, 18, plans to take a gap year and first travel to the Caribbean to earn a sailing captain’s license. Then she’ll attend a National Outdoor Leadership School outdoor educator course in Washington to learn mountaineering, rock climbing and backpacking. After that she’s signed up to work as a nanny in Italy.
“I love being outdoors. I love nature,” Lawson said. “Like Ruby, I’m hoping to find my passions over a gap year.”
Parker Webb, 17, is passionate about climbing and is a member of the Montana Mountaineering Association’s Junior Mountaineering Team.
“It’s fun,” Webb said. “Being cold and scared is really fun.”
He has deferred starting college at Colorado State or MSU, where he may major in engineering, so he can travel to Nepal for eight months. He’s working this summer to raise money for the trip.
Famed professional climber Conrad Anker, a family friend, asked Webb if he’d like to intern at the Khumbu Climbing School, created to train local Nepalis in safe climbing techniques.
Going to Nepal was “a far-off dream,” Webb said, something he hoped to do – someday. Now, it’s about to become a reality, in his gap year.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.