Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Time to Rethink College (Part 3): Do-It-Yourself Gap Year

 

shutterstock_33959002In parts one and two, I warned students and parents about wasting time and money on a bad college strategy, and noted that a great option is to allow a gap year between high school and university. But how does a gap year work? There are two aspects: the work itself and lining up college for later.

The Work “Curriculum” I hadn’t expected my daughter to land as wonderful a job as she did, so let me explain how the gap year approach would have worked even if she had only landed a job sweeping floors. She had an advantage over kids going to college: they vacated the job market, so she had little competition in the fall for jobs typically given to them. So, the idea was to go after intern positions that were vacated at the end of summer. Lots of companies have college interns during the summer. Employers like the low pay and limited commitment. So when she interviewed, she announced three things:

  1. That she was taking a gap year to get job experience to verify her career choice and was looking for an intern experience.
  2. That she was already accepted at a college and would only be available only until fall the following year.
  3. That she was willing to take a part-time position, short-term position, or full-time position (anything).

That immediately solicited respect in the person she interviewed with. Also, with little experience to speak of, she would never get in the door by sending out résumés. So she went in-person from target company to company with the following approach. Walk in with no appointment, ask the receptionist if she could leave her résumé. If so, ask a few questions about the company, then say “I happen to have my portfolio. Since I am here, do you think someone might be able to see me now?” She got interviews 20 percent of the time that way. That approach got her a wonderful job at a firm that probably had a stack of a thousand résumés in waiting.

But what if that didn’t work? Actually, I thought the interviewing by itself was the education. She would see lots of companies, peer into the field she thought she wanted as a career, and learn what it takes to get a job in the real world. So Plan B was: I only expected her to end up sweeping floors, but in the right places. The “Work Curriculum” included three targets: work at a small business, a large business, and a niche company (hopefully high-end). I had expected her to switch jobs every few months. The “Work Curriculum” was to also include things she could not do if in college, like attend several conventions in her fields of interest or relevant travel. And yes, we are going to fly her across the country to these industry conventions.

Plan C was: Get the interview experience, get the convention experience, and if she could not get a job at all, she was going to work for me and we would have our daughter one more year to guide and love.

Lining Up the College

As I said, she was accepted at a college and she decided to take a gap year just a month before the fall start. She even had merit scholarships in place due to high grades. So here is what you do. Call the college and inform them you are taking a gap year or deferment. They will think you are doing so to raise money for tuition, let them think whatever they want. We were told by the admissions office of students who took gap years between every school year to earn enough to pay for college (I guess they were trying to make us poor folks feel better). So the college moved the admission date to the following year. In my daughter’s case, all the scholarships are safe as long as she does not go to another college during the gap year. She still has to come in as a freshman (with no transfer credits). It was actually very simple. She is locked in for college next year.

Harmed Lives

As promised, let me tie up a loose end. I will try to lower those eyebrows that raised when I said to not borrow for college. In the proceeding paragraph you learned how some students go to college a year, take a year to earn money, go to college a year or two, take off again, till they can pay without borrowing. By that process, it might take seven or eight years to get a four-year degree. Let me tell you why that is better than four years in school and then 20 years with school debt. Just re-read that sentence; that’s the reason (and actually, the average is 21.1 years).

21Years

Plus you have this wonderful opportunity to merge work and education, letting each inform the other. So after your first year in college, you get a bottom level job in your field of interest. Just working in your field will influence your next year’s education, which then influences the job you will and can get the next gap year, and so on. Resulting in a degree so finely tuned to the market that you will likely walk directly into a job after graduation, debt-free. In our case, we only had one child in college at a time and thus could afford (barely) to pay as we went with no debt. I would not go into debt for a child’s education any more than I would let them go into debt. If we could not afford the total amount, I would ask the child to take gap years as needed.

500aMonthThe alternative is to graduate with debt and ruin your life, and I mean it. Graduating with a huge debt will impact you for the rest of your days. The average US student loan payment is $499/month and is not paid off until he/she is in their 40s. Presently 30-year-olds are retreating from the housing market. Why? Lower credit scores and loan ratios (they can’t qualify for loans with student debts in the back-end ratios). These folks must postpone house purchases now, postpone wealth accumulation to much later, postpone retirement savings for decades, and this creates families with less financial assets and less ability to help their children. Now it’s impacting the next generation.

Be smart, don’t let a college education ruin your life.

The next and final article in the series: Time to Rethink College (Part 4): Filing the Gaps in the Gap Year Theory.

There are 38 comments.

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  1. Merina Smith Inactive

    Now you tell me. Our youngest just finished his degree in bio chem last June and still doesn’t have a job. He is in the right field, though, it’s just that the jobs aren’t there right now, and we live in a biotech area. Interns seem to be doing a lot of the entry-level work. I hope he gets a job soon because this is driving us all crazy. He went to a high school that required internships during high school, so he did get some work experience that way, and it was useful to him. Like you, we’ve paid for all our kids undergrad expenses, and two of them got higher degrees with no expense. The other two have student loans from their higher level degrees. I consider one degree worth it and the other not, but I guess it could be worse.

    • #1
    • October 27, 2015, at 9:19 AM PDT
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  2. Profile Photo Member

    Thank you for this post!

    • #2
    • October 27, 2015, at 9:23 AM PDT
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  3. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Merina Smith: …but I guess it could be worse.

    You have done well. Your kids have no or little student loan debt.

    • #3
    • October 27, 2015, at 9:45 AM PDT
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  4. Vectorman Member

    I can “Second!” this post.

    I had a good high school, and had a few “Advanced Placement” credits when I started college. In addition, I took a few summer college credits, so at the start of my Junior year, I was a Senior level in credits. I also needed more monetary support from my parents to graduate. So at the end of that semester, I took a Technician job, and earned enough money to finish my Senior year on time and debt free.

    If I would do it again, I would have continued my good paying after High School job, taking community college night courses until the next year’s Fall term. Then come back each summer to a good paying job, and graduate in the same 4 years with little parent (financial) support.

    It was easier in the 1970’s than today, but you have the correct approach.

    • #4
    • October 27, 2015, at 9:49 AM PDT
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    This is a good post to get people thinking. I mostly agree with it. A gap year can be good if you are unsure of the direction you want to go. Debt free college is also great, but I do not know that I would advocate taking gap years between each year to make it happen. You will not be earning as much during the gap year as you could after graduating. The reason it takes 20 years is that people are making the scheduled payments instead of paying it off in chunks by saving money. Also, they borrow more than they really need. So far I have one child in college (second year with no debt). I also agree with you that college age students are still in need of parenting, though the nature of the parental role does start to change to an adviser.

    • #5
    • October 27, 2015, at 10:29 AM PDT
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  6. Mate De Inactive

    My kids are 7 and 4 right now and I’m already on board with the “gap year” my husband is not. I’ve got time and lots can happen in the next 10 years so spread the word so that I won’t have as tough of a time selling it. Hopefully when the time comes it will be the norm for kids.

    • #6
    • October 27, 2015, at 10:33 AM PDT
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  7. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Mate De: I’ve got time and lots can happen in the next 10 years so spread the word so that I won’t have as tough of a time selling it.

    The difficulty in both my wife and daughter in accepting this alternate path were the social implications, the failure to meet other’s expectations and the feared difficulty in explaining to others why. Once the decision was made, the family and most friends quickly became supporters of the idea. However, my daughter was explaining to a parent of one of her friends her decision and the adult walked away before she could fully explain the logic. That is tough on a kid. So part of the reason to do this post is make it easier for others to take alternate paths. To help remove the “stigma.” 

    • #7
    • October 27, 2015, at 10:47 AM PDT
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  8. Mate De Inactive

    Wow, sounds like that adult has some issues. I know what you mean about the stigma, especially in upper class, white suburban circles. I told a friend that although we have a fund for my daughters (not a college fund but we’re saving money) that if they didn’t want to go to college that was fine. Obviously they have to find a vocation but maybe become a hairdresser or another type of trade.

    You would have thought I told my friend I wanted my daughters to become strippers or something. So I understand what you mean about the stigma.

    • #8
    • October 27, 2015, at 10:58 AM PDT
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  9. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Mate De: You would have thought I told my friend I wanted my daughters to become strippers

    Yeah, without a college degreee some people think you are a loser… except of course Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Ansel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Frank Lloyd Wright, George Eastman, Henry Ford, James Cameron, Jerry Yang, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Milton Hershey, Rush Limbaugh, Steve Wozniak, Thomas EdisonWalt Disney, Scott Walker, and Steve Jobs.

    • #9
    • October 27, 2015, at 11:15 AM PDT
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  10. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ll be the contrarian.

    Huge debt, as long as the interest rate is fixed, will deflate enormously when hyperinflation takes hold.

    That is, if you believe the US will end up needing to revert to hyperinflation to blow off the national debt. Student debt will go bye-bye.

    I am STILL paying off college debt. And not regretting it at all.

    • #10
    • October 27, 2015, at 11:15 AM PDT
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  11. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Kids should certainly grow up first. Good colleges allow for 1-3 years deferred matriculation with no questions asked.

    • #11
    • October 27, 2015, at 11:16 AM PDT
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  12. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    iWe: I am STILL paying off college debt.

    Just as a data point on student loans, how long is it going to take?

    • #12
    • October 27, 2015, at 11:17 AM PDT
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  13. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wiley:

    iWe: I am STILL paying off college debt.

    Care to tell us your approximate age? Just as a data point on student loans. You look rather young in your photo.

    43 for another month or so. I was a student for a long time – did quite a few years in grad school after college. But I worked the whole time as well, albeit not for a paycheck.

    • #13
    • October 27, 2015, at 11:24 AM PDT
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  14. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    We have two in college at the moment and have tried to incorporate most of what you are discussing.

    We agreed to the “College Reimbursement Plan”.

    They have both worked (and continue to work) part time jobs in the “food service industry”. I have a friend that does catering and runs a small sandwich outlet and is always looking for a good workers. Not surprisingly his average length of employment is about 7 month. Both boys are on 3 plus years with him and he pays them well ($15/hour), because they can perform like adults. He busts their humps and makes it known that there are no favors for knowing Dad. He think they are great, but I tell him don’t swell their heads. Because the are so useful to him as reliable part timers he gives them lots of flexibility to operate around their school schedules. It pays for their up front layout of tuition, they cover their books & fees, as well as their portion of the monthly auto insurance, gas, and mobile phone bills.

    So step one, work ethics check, dealing with grumpy hungry customers check, some beginning of learning personal financial management check. (I believe everyone should have the humility to serve others in entry level service industries, just so they remember the experience when they get on the other side of the counter)

    Now the college part, since the Bank of Mom & Dad are “reimbursing” them, we have a say in the field of study (we also only pay 100% for “A’s” and 80% for ‘B’s” anything lower is their learning curve). Therefore no “studies” of anything degree, no liberal arts, no soft sciences.

    One is half a year from graduation in Accounting, and already has a solid job prospect lined up (from a few semesters of interning), and is backing that up with more interviews that seem to indicate a strong market demand. (Note to Merina here: He is 23.5, unattached, and will probably be working in downtown, is your daughter still looking? Can she handle the 8 year delta? I think he is a good boy if a tad goofy & slightly immature, Mom think I am too hard on judging him)

    Number two is well into Sophomore year of Engineering, and he is doing better than number one grade-wise (he is more serious than number one). While he has yet to do any interning, the unemployment rate for new grads in Engineering is less than 5% nation wide, and almost non existent in the DC region.

    So no debt, inculcating with personal work values, degrees that society finds useful….I know the project(s) are not completed yet, but are we close?

    • #14
    • October 27, 2015, at 11:55 AM PDT
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  15. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    One of my kids (KidCoder) is being paid to got to college. He is also working on the side, and is cheap as nails. I couldn’t be prouder.

    #2 (who is coming to Philly, so y’all can meet him), is going to be more expensive. But we like him anyway. He is applying to schools now, and may well take a gap year to learn.

    • #15
    • October 27, 2015, at 12:16 PM PDT
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  16. Merina Smith Inactive

    GLDIII:(Note to Merina here: He is 23.5, unattached, and will probably be working in downtown, is your daughter still looking? Can she handle the 8 year delta? I think he is a good boy if a tad goofy & slightly immature, Mom think I am too hard on judging him)

    Still looking. She’d probably be OK with it, but would he? She’s in Ukraine right now, but back in December.

    • #16
    • October 27, 2015, at 12:57 PM PDT
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  17. Merina Smith Inactive

    One thought–most of my son’s friends have been very undirected. They all planned to start school right after high school, and most of them did in one form or another, but now one has a couple of associates degrees with no idea what he wants to do, another is in and out of community college, also with no idea what he wants to do. Our son is one of the few of his HS group of friends who got through in four years because we told him he had to. I think a gap year is a good idea, unless the kid just drifts off to nothing and never reclaims momentum to do anything else. I’ve seen that happen all too often.

    • #17
    • October 27, 2015, at 1:01 PM PDT
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  18. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    @GLDIII

    Great plan. You could have written this post. The “College Reimbursement Plan” has all kinds of potential. Not sure how you are doing it, but one could make the kids get enough money for the first year and based on your 100% for “A’s” and 80% for ‘B’s” be reimbursed in the summer with enough to pay for the 2nd year, less the bad grade deficit which they would need to make up during the summer. Right?

    I really like the boys working part time jobs in the “food service industry”. That builds a solid blue collar work ethic (a compliment in my mind). A blue collar work ethic in a white collar profession is a formula for certain success. And as for job security and a sure future, you can not get better than engineering (and also computer science).

    All us parents who get their kids through college debt free are looking / hoping our kids will find a spouse who is ALSO debt free. Otherwise all our work is undone!

    • #18
    • October 27, 2015, at 1:19 PM PDT
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  19. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wiley: All us parents who get their kids through college debt free are looking / hoping our kids will find a spouse who is ALSO debt free. Otherwise all our work is undone!

    Ah… the perils of intermarriage.

    • #19
    • October 27, 2015, at 1:25 PM PDT
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  20. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wiley: Great plan. You could have written this post. The “College Reimbursement Plan” has all kinds of potential. Not sure how you are doing it, but one could make the kids get enough money for the first year and based on your 100% for “A’s” and 80% for ‘B’s” be reimbursed in the summer with enough to pay for the 2nd year, less the bad grade deficit which they would need to make up during the summer. Right?

    Correct, Number one went to school thinking he was an Engineer “like Dad”. However he did not have the Knack (below). I knew that, but let him experience the “slings and arrows of defeat”. (We also subscribe to the two years of community college transfer the University path, the degree only mentions the last institution). So monetarily it was only 2.5K, and he was able to use the general studies required classes to advance to UofMD Smith business school

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60P1xG32Feo

    He got slaughtered grade wise but learned about himself on the cheap with only a year loss. It forced him to work really hard to make up the GPA

    • #20
    • October 27, 2015, at 1:40 PM PDT
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  21. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Merina Smith:

    GLDIII:(Note to Merina here: He is 23.5, unattached, and will probably be working in downtown, is your daughter still looking? Can she handle the 8 year delta? I think he is a good boy if a tad goofy & slightly immature, Mom think I am too hard on judging him)

    Still looking. She’d probably be OK with it, but would he? She’s in Ukraine right now, but back in December.

    Dating a hot older gal….pa-shaw, I figured the issue in on the ladies side. Besides this seems to be the trend for 3 of 4 of his great grandparents (but we did not discuss that in those days) and 1 of 2 on the grandparents line up. Given male mortality this is a better arrangement.

    I could ask him this weekend when he comes home for work. He stays at the maternal grandparents during the school week since they live closer to campus than we do, but as noted above he still works on the weekends. Lately serving thousands @ Navy football for his boss working a 12 hour day leaves him drained by Saturday night….

    • #21
    • October 27, 2015, at 1:53 PM PDT
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  22. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    iWe:

    Wiley: All us parents who get their kids through college debt free are looking / hoping our kids will find a spouse who is ALSO debt free. Otherwise all our work is undone!

    Ah… the perils of intermarriage.

    Yes, the debtor and debtless classes. I have heard such marriages can however work out as long as the debtless person manages the money. The problem comes with the kids, those poor confused kids. Which economic theory will they follow, Keynesian or Hayekian? And holidays can be so difficult when the Keynesian in-laws visit.

    • #22
    • October 27, 2015, at 2:24 PM PDT
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  23. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wiley:

    iWe:

    Wiley: All us parents who get their kids through college debt free are looking / hoping our kids will find a spouse who is ALSO debt free. Otherwise all our work is undone!

    Ah… the perils of intermarriage.

    Yes, the debtor and debtless classes. I have heard such marriages can however work out as long as the debtless person manages the money. The problem comes with the kids, those poor confused kids. Which economic theory will they follow, Keynesian or Hayekian? And holidays can be so difficult when the Keynesian in-laws visit.

    It is even worse than you think! After all, soft-hearted people think that it is possible to live in both worlds at the same time, but we are older and wiser, and we know that debtless and indebted are in fact incompatible, and it only leads to trouble….

    • #23
    • October 27, 2015, at 2:31 PM PDT
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  24. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    iWe:

    Wiley:

    iWe:

    Wiley: All us parents who get their kids through college debt free are looking / hoping our kids will find a spouse who is ALSO debt free. Otherwise all our work is undone!

    Ah… the perils of intermarriage.

    Yes, the debtor and debtless classes. I have heard such marriages can however work out as long as the debtless person manages the money. The problem comes with the kids, those poor confused kids. Which economic theory will they follow, Keynesian or Hayekian? And holidays can be so difficult when the Keynesian in-laws visit.

    It is even worse than you think! After all, soft-hearted people think that it is possible to live in both worlds at the same time, but we are older and wiser, and we know that debtless and indebted are in fact incompatible, and it only leads to trouble….

    So true.

    • #24
    • October 27, 2015, at 3:03 PM PDT
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  25. Merina Smith Inactive

    GLDIII:

    Merina Smith:

    GLDIII:(Note to Merina here: He is 23.5, unattached, and will probably be working in downtown, is your daughter still looking? Can she handle the 8 year delta? I think he is a good boy if a tad goofy & slightly immature, Mom think I am too hard on judging him)

    Still looking. She’d probably be OK with it, but would he? She’s in Ukraine right now, but back in December.

    Dating a hot older gal….pa-shaw, I figured the issue in on the ladies side. Besides this seems to be the trend for 3 of 4 of his great grandparents (but we did not discuss that in those days) and 1 of 2 on the grandparents line up. Given male mortality this is a better arrangement.

    I could ask him this weekend when he comes home for work. He stays at the maternal grandparents during the school week since they live closer to campus than we do, but as noted above he still works on the weekends. Lately serving thousands @ Navy football for his boss working a 12 hour day leaves him drained by Saturday night….

    Well, if it’s family tradition, it’s worth pursuing!

    • #25
    • October 27, 2015, at 4:16 PM PDT
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  26. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    The first image in this post is a Swedish stamp showing Norway Lemmings. Wikepedia has this to say of them: “Where geographical features constrain their movements and channel them into a relatively narrow corridor, large numbers can build up, leading to social friction, distress, and eventually a mass panic can follow, where they flee in all directions.”

    I have this to say of contemporary college students: “Where social features constrain their movements and channel them into a relatively narrow college paths, large numbers can build up, leading to social friction, distress, and eventually a mass panic can follow, where they flee in all directions.”

    • #26
    • October 27, 2015, at 8:41 PM PDT
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  27. RabbitHoleRedux Inactive

    iWe:

    Wiley: All us parents who get their kids through college debt free are looking / hoping our kids will find a spouse who is ALSO debt free. Otherwise all our work is undone!

    Ah… the perils of intermarriage.

    LOL! I thought I was the only one sick enough to think such a thing! hahahaha

    • #27
    • October 30, 2015, at 4:17 PM PDT
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  28. PHCheese Member

    I have been very lucky . I somehow managed to put myself, two wives and three kids through school without any debt of more than a year.

    • #28
    • October 30, 2015, at 5:50 PM PDT
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  29. PsychLynne Inactive

    I took a “gap year” of sorts…After my third years of college, they graciously invited me to leave and not come back secondary to my abysmal GPA (1.6).

    Lots of unwise decisions led to that, but the year off was the best thing that ever happened to me. Worked in retail, decided that attending class was a viable trade-off for returning to school, chose a better fit school and major, and got a partial academic scholarship my last year.

    Not what I recommend, but lessons learned. My kids are 9 and 15, and based on financial difficulties we’ve had, they have no college fund. Sadly, the older, more serious student is the one who will probably pay the price for it given his age, and the fact that he is quite bright, but not “top of the class.” A gap year may be the way for him to go.

    • #29
    • October 31, 2015, at 4:00 AM PDT
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  30. EThompson Inactive

    Gap year? I had “Gap summers” from the age of 14-21 with part-time jobs and yes, some European travel as well.

    One of my nephews took a year to join the Peace Corps and the two Columbia educated daughters of a personal friend took theirs in Haiti and Beirut in the midst of their college experience.

    Two years and $750k later, none of them have jobs. At least the parents funded it and not the taxpayer.

    • #30
    • October 31, 2015, at 12:59 PM PDT
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