Why Students with Learning and Attention Issues Should Consider a Gap Year
As the new year begins, many of you are probably dreading the question from family and friends, “What are you going to do after high school graduation?” For students with learning differences who might have found academics to be a challenge, a four-year university is not always the immediate first choice – and that’s okay! Michael Sandler, an expert on ADHD and education, assures that it is totally acceptable to not immediately start college after you graduate from high school, especially because there are so many alternatives. These alternatives, including working in an internship or full-time job, all offer significant benefits that can lead to success both academically and professionally, by providing opportunities to gain valuable work experience and investigate your interests.
At BroadFutures, we believe this is particularly true for students with learning and attention issues, as these nontraditional learners often learn best by doing. Our paid internship program is focused on helping young people realize their potential through hands-on experiences that increase self-confidence, independence, communication skills, and resilience. We utilize alternative learning strategies for our unique learners by incorporating the arts, yoga, and mindfulness. Our holistic approach creates a valuable opportunity for young people with learning and attention issues to consider as a gap year option.
Similarly, John Willson, Executive Director of SOAR, a gap year program that focuses on young adults with ADHD and/or other learning differences, points out that a gap year can provide a much-needed break from traditional schooling and offers endless possibilities for students to gain practical life experience. These options can include interning or working, traveling, volunteering, performing research, and more. No one option is better than the others – decide what is best for you! To help you decide, think about why you want to take a gap year in the first place and what you want to get out of it.
Who takes a gap year?
Some students simply are not ready for college or a career yet! Some are burnt out from academic pressures put on by the stress of high school. Others are not sure what area of study they want to pursue. Some students are not developmentally ready for college yet, while others lack the executive functioning skills necessary to succeed in college. If any of these descriptions resonate with you, a gap year is worth looking into. Otherwise, you could miss the opportunity to reach your full potential.
Why take a gap year?
A gap year can provide a significant confidence booster for students with learning and attention issues. While many of these students have struggled to be successful in school, often a gap year provides the perfect environment to achieve success, and in turn increases self-confidence. As an additional bonus, writer Carter Brown from GoAbroad.com notes that a gap year can help you stand out to potential colleges and employers. 88% of students who took an internship during their gap year reported the internship significantly added to their employability, according to a survey done by the Gap Year Association. In addition, students who have interned during a gap year are perceived to be more mature, more self-reliant, and more independent than those who don’t. Work experience during a gap year is particularly important for students with learning and attention issues. These students often are not able to engage in work opportunities during the summer, since they are taking classes due to a reduced course load during the year. These early work experiences ensure they are not at a competitive disadvantage when applying to jobs after college.
Specifically, here are some reasons why a gap year could be beneficial for young people with learning and attention issues. When taking a gap year, students are able to:
- Increase college readiness – A gap year provides an opportunity for students to improve their executive functioning skills. These skills are essential for a successful college career. Loren Dunn writes about “why your brain would love it if you took a gap year.”
- Gain work experience – And your job or internship won’t be the only thing you can include on your resume. By working, you will also undoubtedly gain soft skills, as well. Examples of soft skills include communication, leadership, teamwork, and critical thinking skills to name a few.
- Explore study and career options – A gap year is the perfect chance to delve into current interests through volunteering or working. Alternatively, you could even discover new passions by traveling and meeting other people.
- Grow personally – The goal of a gap year is to hopefully come away with a refined sense of direction as well as gain independence and maturity.
- Renew motivation, interest, and confidence in academics– Taking a gap year is a way to recharge your brain. The idea is to take time off now, so you will return refreshed and ready to head into college with an open mind.
Gap Year Programs for Students Who Learn Differently
Being a gap year program ourselves, the mission of BroadFutures is to provide a supportive and enriching experiential learning opportunity for young people with learning and attention issues. We combine a two-week training program that creatively engages youth to strengthen their self-advocacy, interview skills, communication, and overall professionalism with mentorship and internships. Through partnerships with more than 50 diverse employers, participants work four days a week at paid internships designed to match their interests and strengths and come back to us on Fridays for ongoing training. Throughout the internship, BroadFutures provides support through a unique peer mentor and coaching model.
Here are a few other programs worth taking a look at, specifically for students with LD and/or ADHD:
- InventiveLabs – During two consecutive four-month sessions, InventiveLabs does a deep dive into career options based directly off of participants’ interests and strengths. Through online courses, company visits, and a networking and mentor program, participants are able to develop a strategy for completing college. InventiveLabs believes that people in their program “need to know the reason they are attending college in order to succeed in college.”
- SOAR – The GAP Year at SOAR – or the Gateway Adventure Program – incorporates travel, independent living, and adventure to empower young adults with ADHD and/or other learning differences. Participants will learn and experience real-world responsibilities and life skills through residential and expedition components, as well as get the opportunity to enroll in college courses and volunteer.
- Dynamy – Dynamy’s semester or year-long gap year program encompasses everything from internships and one-on-one mentoring, to outdoor challenges, to community involvement and apartment life. With hands-on learning, Dynamy is designed to help students find their sense of direction.
The Gap Year Association website is also a great resource for different gap year programs.