LeDoux Van V. of Monroe, Louisiana spent last year studying in Costa Rica and later did an internship in Barcelona, where he taught English to elementary-school students. His mother, Kathy, says it made a profound difference in how he views the world-not to mention his fluent Spanish. LeDoux is now a freshman at Charleston College in South Carolina.
Cassie H. of Potomac, Maryland, decided that college wasn't for her and started working at a clothing store near her parents' home. Cassie quickly moved up the ranks to manager of the chain's new location and is thinking about taking classes at George Washington University.
And Teresa B. of Bremerton, Washington, left college to go to massage school. Her mother says seeing her daughter so sure of her decision has made her happy.
True, a gap year means an extra year of room, board, and some type of tuition, but many students help pay or work half the year, and do an internship in the other half. "Another thing to consider," says Holly Bull, President of the Princeton, NJ-based Center for INTERIM Programs, LLC, herself a gap year student, "is that students who take a gap year tend to be more focused and are usually able to finish college [in four years] without wasting as much time."
The reasons a teen chooses something other than going from homeroom to dorm room are as varied as the students themselves. "Many are just burned out [after 12 years of school] and ready for a break, "explains Tamara Orr, author of America's Best Colleges for B Students. Others are passionate about getting a taste of the "real" world and want to do something more authentic.
And others have no idea what comes next. "It's a myth that all gap year students know what they want to do," says Gail Reardon of Boston-based Taking Off, a consulting firm that helps direct teens to programs that might be a good fit for them.