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One Son Took a Gap Year, the Other Didn't: Mom Says 'They're Both Fine'

Various travel items on a desk

Two Boys, Two Pathways to College

Amanda Murray has two sons:

Christian is between his Masters and PhD in bioinformatics and computational chemistry. (We had to look it up, too. Here's a link to his undergraduate program at the University of Toronto.)

Nicholas is a couple of months away from graduation at the University of Toronto with a degree in political science.

Years earlier, Christian went straight to college out of high school.

Nicholas—after visiting a few colleges as a high school senior—told his parents one day: "I don't think I'm quite ready."

read himself

Talking About a Year Off

From her Pearson office in Toronto, Amanda recalls being skeptical at first.

"Neither his father nor I were on board," she says. "We were worried that he wouldn't ever go back to college."

"But after talking to him," Amanda says, "we began to understand that he had a plan. He was able to read himself better than us."

More Prepared for College

Nicholas had been a standout tennis player in high school. He'd even been offered a tennis scholarship to attend college.

"He wasn't sure if he was ready to dive in to tennis like he'd been doing," Amanda says. "He wanted to take some time off, work on his SAT scores, and think things through."

"He worked during his time before college and realized he'd rather coach tennis than play tennis," Amanda says. "So with new aspirations to study education and political science, he managed to get in to a great university and really apply himself in a way that I thought he never could."

Students Needing Clarity, With No Time to Find It

"There's such inertia for high school students to go to college," says Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year. The organization offers high school graduates a solution to the inertia:

"It’s called a bridge year, a Global Citizen Year, which is an international immersion designed to give high school graduates perspective, confidence and purpose prior to college. A bridge year is a real world classroom – no walls, no textbooks…just life through a global lens."

care about

"Without an experience like this," Abby says, "so many students have no time to pause and reflect and understand who they are and what they care about."

"They get to the end of college," she says, "and they're still unclear about what to do next."

The Global Citizen Year Approach

"I hate the term 'gap year,'" Abby says. "It's not a gaping hole in someone's life. We need to reframe the metaphor to better reflect what the year, when used constructively, can be: a 'bridge year' or a 'launching pad.'"

"We all have a comfort zone," Abby says. "We have a panic zone as well. In between the two is the 'stretch zone' where real learning happens."

"For a lot of kids, being stretched is simply getting out of the classroom which inevitably leads to questions about who we are and who we're becoming," she says.

"The unifying theme for our programs is that kids get the most out of their bridge year if they start with the end in mind," Abby says. "What are the questions they want to answer at the end of the year?"

"And at the end of the year," she says, "we want them to arrive at a whole new set of questions to guide their college education—and beyond."

Bundling Bridge Years Into College Degree Programs

Abby hopes that this kind of approach to bridge years can be a part of re-thinking higher education.

"I'm convinced my kids will not go to a traditional four-year college," she says.

"How can we integrate deep experiential learning into higher education?" Abby asks. "Can the concept of a bridge year be bundled in to what leads up to a college degree?"

Abby says this approach has to be designed to address traditional criticisms about access and privilege.

"That's why 80-percent of our Fellows get financial aid and a third of them are given full, need-based funding," Abby says. "

"The whole system has to benefit all kinds of students."

found the time

Needing Time to Grow Up

For Amanda Murray, she's equally proud of both her sons.

"Don't think that Nicholas' brother, Christian, didn't have his own zig zags along the way," Amanda says. "They've both been successful even though they've done things very differently."

"Both of them needed—and found the time—to pause and grow up in their own ways," she says.

"And I needed to learn how to trust them."