Dear Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,

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I am writing to you after being with 23,000 Catholic high school youth at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis.  From Thursday to Saturday, I had an opportunity to speak with at least five hundred of your children. My impression is that they are fun loving, articulate, faith-filled, hopeful, searching kids who want to make a difference in the world and live a meaningful life.  It is obvious you have done a great job raising them!  My reason for going to NCYC was to promote a service-based gap year experience called Discovery House, which is a program of 12plus1, Inc.  I feel I have a responsibility share with you what I learned about many of your sons and daughters, especially high school seniors.  They are scared, stressed, uncertain, feeling pressure and (even still) hopeful about their future. It seems that at age 17 it is difficult to know, with any degree of certainty, what you want to do for the rest of your life.  It doesn’t matter if you are the class valedictorian (who I met) or the class clown (who I also met) it is really difficult to make this choice.  It seems there are limitless options before them and not quite enough life experience to know which one is for them. Many see this as THE pivotal decision of their life.  It is what they have been preparing for since before middle school (ore before) and it is what they perceive, often unfortunately with some parents’ encouragement, will determine the next sixty years of their life. Plus, the exorbitant cost of college makes them feel as though they cannot make a mistake.  For many the conversation about taking a gap year to do service, live in community, expand their life experience, meet diverse people, grow in understanding of self and God sounded like a lifeline to many.  Only to have them end the conversation disappointingly saying, “my parents will never let me.”   This is why I wanted to write to you.  A gap year has many benefits and can actually help students have a more academic and professional success.  I ask that you consider a gap year as part of the preparation process for and not an alternate to college.

First let’s get this out right away:  A gap year is NOT for everyone.  At the same time let’s acknowledge that moving directly from high school to college is NOT for everyone either.  The destination may be the same, but the route can be as varied as there are people.  Let’s also be clear that the gap year is not a replacement for college. Statistics about gap year participants demonstrate that 90% go onto college within a year of their experience.  With this in mind here are 4 reasons why I suggest you allow your high school senior to consider a gap year.



In a highly competitive world there are many intelligent individuals.  Often what sets individuals apart for success is their ability to communicate, be flexible, resilient and creative in relating to others. There are certain skills that come with finding success and overcoming challenges of independence. Getting up after being knocked down could be the most important life experience. Discovery House participants experience the real world.  They have to cook, do laundry, shovel snow, clean, budget and shop all while essentially working full time.  Just like real life.  People at their service site and in their community will count on them.  It is not an option to forgo the responsibilities at home or the service site.  Evaluations and feedback will be a regular part of the service and community experience.  This gap year experience is not a vacation! It is an organized, structured activity with a purpose and goal.  Fortunately, they will have a formation day to learn from their success and failure.  It should not be a surprise that gap year participants have a higher degree of academic and professional success because they have additional skills that come from life experience and maturity.  College is approached with purpose because it is their choice.  They have a plan and are organized more able to cope with stress and loss.  They are primed for success.



Discovery House provides an experience, which allows them to discern their college and career.  If an individual is interested in education, their service site can be placed at an urban school.  This placement will provide real experience.  Their decision will not be based on reading a brochure. Participants will create a plan for their academic and professional future.  Gaining experience, maturity and direction students are more likely to succeed. A survey from the American Gap Year Association cites that   “ . . . students who had taken a Gap Year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college, and this effect was seen even for Gap Year students with lower academic achievement in high school (Crawford and Cribb 2012, Clagett 2013).



At NCYC many ADULTS told us they wished 12plus1 existed when they were in college.  A story we heard more than once went like this:  “I went to college because I thought I had to.  I had no idea what I wanted to do so I didn’t go to class, partied a lot and flunked out.  It was a waste of $40,000.”  A gap year is an investment in your son or daughter that will make it more likely that they will find success at college.  One could see this as an insurance policy for college.  Of course, a gap year experience has a cost, but the positive impact on communication skills, maturity, organization and emotional intelligence can never be taken away.


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As someone who has worked in ministry for over 25 years I have often heard people complain about young people.  This is an opportunity for young adults to be their best.  Whether they are working at an urban school which serve students living in poverty, reaching out to a person in the criminal justice system, helping someone get out of human trafficking or offering support for an addict, they are doing good!  This should be a cause of celebration!  The United States Catholic Bishops said, “Action on behalf of justice . . . appears to us as a constitutive dimension of the Gospel.”  In other words, action is essential to living the Gospel.  One could argue that it is impossible to live the mission of Christ without serving others.  It is our belief that Discovery House will encourage participants to make service, kindness, caring for others a part of their character.  All one needs to do is look at the world to recognize that our world is broken, and the social fabric is fraying.  Your son or daughter has the gifts and talents to bring healing, unify divisions and become an advocate for those most in need.  Why wouldn’t we encourage an opportunity for our children to live with purpose and meaning expressing their best selves?  

While a gap year might be a new concept for some it should not be met with “My parents will never let me do this.”  There are too many benefits for your child and our world.  It is my hope you might respond with “Let’s discern if this is the right path for you!”


Joe Nettesheim, Director

12plus1, Inc.

Schedule Your Information Session

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Selecting a gap year is an important decision.  It is important to all of us at 12plus1 that you have all of your questions answered.  One way you can learn more is through a Google Hangout info session.  Sign up using the form below and director Joe Nettesheim will schedule a time with you to talk about every detail about Discovery House.  We will meet with prospective participants, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, ministers, or any combination!  A google hangout allows for up to 10 participants.  Submit the form below to start the process.

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It’s that time of year again. High-school seniors across the country are finishing their final exams, cleaning out their lockers, and getting ready to walk up on stage to accept their diplomas.

The students know where they’re going to college, and they’ll busy themselves over the coming months by looking into meal plans, registering for classes, and contacting their future roommates. Admissions deans are still analyzing yield targets with their staff and are already looking at what they could do differently next year. It’s a predictable cycle — except for one wrinkle.

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An increasing number of students are questioning whether they are ready to dive straight into four more years of classroom lectures, research papers, and cramming for exams. Many are exhausted and burned out, eager to refuel their curiosity about the world through the kind of learning that won’t appear on a transcript.

Record numbers of students are contemplating a gap year before college, and they are looking for guidance on this important decision from the very colleges that admitted them. With a few exceptions, most students who inquire about a gap year will receive a silent nod from their admissions counselor and another form to fill out. Is that really the best we can do?

Over the past five years, many college-admissions offices have adopted policies that allow students to defer their admission offer for one year. The gap year has become increasingly popular with admissions leaders, who have witnessed firsthand its positive impact on students and campus culture. Yet most colleges have remained resolutely agnostic as to what students should do on their gap year, and how they might pay for it.

At first glance this might make sense. The undergraduate clock starts ticking only when an incoming freshman sets foot on campus. Or does it? Not if you believe, as we do, that one of the most effective ways to improve college outcomes is to improve the inputs. A gap year designed with purpose and intent is a journey of personal growth that helps students successfully transition to college.

At a time when traditional four-year colleges are struggling to stay relevant and high-school graduates are hungry for real-­world experiences, why wouldn’t educators weigh in on the merits of a gap year? Isn’t it time for higher education to help students figure out what kind of experience will help them succeed in college and in life?

We recently worked with a group of experts to define the following key characteristics of a transformative gap year: It is purposeful and practical, involving some element of service to others; it takes students out of their comfort zone, challenging them to learn new skills and try on new perspectives; it offers the right balance of autonomy and mentoring to help students build self-confidence and a sense of purpose; it is accessible to students from all economic backgrounds.

  a transformative gap year: It is purposeful and practical, involving some element of service to others; it takes students out of their comfort zone, challenging them to learn new skills and try on new perspectives; it offers the right balance of autonomy and mentoring to help students build self-confidence and a sense of purpose

a transformative gap year: It is purposeful and practical, involving some element of service to others; it takes students out of their comfort zone, challenging them to learn new skills and try on new perspectives; it offers the right balance of autonomy and mentoring to help students build self-confidence and a sense of purpose

The idea of integrating an experiential gap year with college may sound radical, but many colleges already routinely grant academic credit for service learning, internships, study abroad, and other forms of engaged learning. Education researchers have proven that these so-called high-impact practices improve student retention and engagement in college. However, many undergrads don’t have access to these formative experiences until their junior or senior year.

Imagine how much we could amplify the positive effects if we offered students a megadose of high-impact practices at the beginning of college instead of at the end.

Reinforcing this point, the Gallup- Purdue Index, a large study of college graduates that seeks to track college outcomes, has demonstrated that how students go to college is much more important than where they go to college. Longitudinal data from the study show conclusively that the strongest predictors of future success are experiences that require initiative and agency — such as finding a mentor, having an internship, and doing a project that takes a semester or more to complete.

College leaders are desperate to cultivate a greater sense of civic responsibility among their students. In these turbulent political times, this is one of the most pressing challenges facing higher education. Similarly, educators recognize that the power skills of the 21st century — resilience, empathy, collaboration, initiative — are difficult to teach in the classroom. To build these skills, students need to be out in the world grappling with complex issues of identity, equity, diversity, and power. A purposeful gap year is a powerful way to build those muscles.

And a growing number of colleges understand that a purposeful year off before college is the best way to ensure that more students arrive on campus prepared to declare both a major and a mission. Pioneering institutions are taking steps to repurpose gap years as transformative bridge years. Could this be the freshman-year makeover we’ve been hoping for?

the strongest predictors of future success are experiences that require initiative and agency — such as finding a mentor, having an internship, and doing a project that takes a semester or more to complete.

Tufts and Princeton Universities have designed (and financed) their own service-oriented gap-year programs for incoming students, and several other institutions are exploring similar models. Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina, Florida State University, and Dickinson College all offer scholarships to make meaningful gap-year opportunities accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.

And there are numerous examples of admissions offices — including at Dartmouth College, Brown University, Rice University, Colorado College, and Middlebury College — that have developed useful gap-year resources for all prospective students. This is a perfect moment for other institutions to replicate and adapt these models to their own contexts.

In the next few weeks, admitted students may turn to you for guidance as they contemplate taking a gap year. Will you send them a form, or will you guide them toward a formative experience?

This article was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on June 3, 2018.  



Abigail Falik is founder and chief executive of Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit dedicated to reinventing the gap year. Linda Frey is vice president for strategic partnerships at Global Citizen Year, where she leads the organization’s higher-education partnerships.