A gap year is a time after high school, typically a year or two, when students take time off to serve, travel or work before enrolling in college. It’s an opportunity to develop and mature more, especially spiritually, and could lead to a stronger sense of calling and career direction.
At Mennonite Mission Network, there are two programs that offer the opportunity for students to serve during a gap year. In Radical Journey
, participants spend 10-11 months with a team in an international location, and in Service Adventure
, participants join other individuals and leaders living in community together and serving in agencies for 10 months.
In the words of a 2010-2011 Service Adventure participant following his experience:
"I’ve been in college over a semester and I am frequently reminded of why it was a good decision to take a year off and do Service Adventure. My life didn’t fall apart after departing from routine: My legs could still play soccer, my brain could still think, and scholarships remained. If anything, my experiences – from prayer, to relating to others, to finding comfort in the uncomfortable – seem to relate to the present often. Living out my faith in tangible ways gives me purpose and energy for the academic pursuit. Taking a year 'off' allowed me to turn 'on' to God and to my neighbor. For this I am blessed." – Ben Kreider, Service Adventure alum
Additionally, a selection of Mennonite colleges and universities offered this advice in regard to choosing a year of service: Bethel College, North Newton, Kan.:
Before you leave for your service term ...
- Communicate with colleges your official intent to do a year of service as soon as you commit to doing so.
- Make sure you audition for music and theatre scholarships, submit art portfolios, and accept any departmental scholarships.
- Communicate with colleges what will be the best way to communicate with you (i.e., e-mail, Facebook, snail mail, or via your parents). Some colleges will want to communicate any scholarship deadlines, forms needed, etc., during the year.
- Enjoy your experience! It is a unique opportunity that will enrich your life for years to come. You should immerse yourself in the experience and accept the journey God lays before you.
Clark Oswald, associate director of Admissions, Bethel College. Contact Clark via e-mail
or call 316-284-5313.Bluffton (Ohio) University:
It’s good for the student to have in mind the institution they would like to attend before leaving for service. Having the decision made can relieve a lot of stress. The student can then engage in conversation with staff at the institution during the experience by e-mail or phone if questions come up.
- Sue Van Eman, associate director of Admissions/transfer coordinator, Bluffton University. Contact Sue via e-mail
or call 419-358-3258.Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.:
We work with a number of students who decide to choose a year of service before attending college. As someone who personally did two years of service after college (with MVS), I would certainly recommend that everyone look into service at some point, whether it be before, during or after college. When you’re that age, you’re not tied down to anything, and it can be a great learning opportunity!
I recommend that individuals submit their application prior to leaving for service. If the student is in high school, I advise them to apply during their senior year and submit their SAT or ACT scores and a copy of their high school transcript so that we can review their file and get them admitted before they leave. Assuming a student is admitted, we will also immediately let them know whether they’ve qualified for one of our academic scholarships. Admittance and academic scholarships are easily
deferred during a student’s term of service.
In the past, we have tried to connect fellow gap year students with one another before they arrive on campus and again during student orientation. There are more of them than you think!
- Matthew R. Ruth, assistant director of Admissions, Eastern Mennonite University. Contact Matthew via e-mail
or call 800-268-2665.Goshen (Ind.) College:
Stay in contact with your counselor during your year abroad and make sure your parents are also in communication with the college, especially in relation to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Dan Koop Liechty, PhD, director of Admissions, Goshen College. Contact Dan via e-mail
or call 574-535-7535.Hesston (Kan.) College:
Students who spend time doing service before starting college bring an interesting and unique perspective to campus. These students often come to Hesston with a clearer sense of purpose and plans for their future. They are often leaders on campus and use their service experiences to serve fellow students, the community, and the world. Service can help students expand their worldview, which Hesston is able to foster even more through a geographically diverse student population and learning experiences that challenge critical thinking.
And while this may not be what you were seeking, we would add ... maybe you have a student who is interested in doing service, but is not quite sure they are ready right after high school. Hesston College provides a natural break after two years to pursue service opportunities. After two years of higher education, students are sometimes more prepared to use their knowledge and talents to serve others before completing a four-year degree.
- Krista Murray, Admissions Office manager, Hesston College. Contact Krista via e-mail
or call 620-327-8223.
For more details of what these colleges offer in the way of assistance to those taking a gap year, contact Jill Schmidt
of Mennonite Mission Network.