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Life Experience Before College

In Great Britain, it's practically tradition to take time off before going to college. It's known as the "Gap Year."

In Australia it's called a "Walkabout." But in the U.S., the idea is still a foreign concept.

As The Early Show continues its weeklong Grad Series, we'll talk to some American students who are daring to be different.

Antonia House is about to graduate from high school in Manhattan, but as her peers are picking out dorm room furniture, she's preparing to go globetrotting.

"I'm going to Madrid where I'll take Spanish lessons. I'm going to Berlin, where I'm going to take German lessons and then I'm probably going to travel on my own a bit around Central and Eastern Europe," said House.

After spending a summer in France, House became interested in international relations.

"A lot of people in Europe take time off," said House. "I'm not getting that American college experience, but, I figure, I'm getting my own thing, and that's really what I want."

While few students are as brave as House, taking a year off between high school and college can mean a brighter future.

According to a recent survey of 350 students, 55 percent of those that had taken time off say the experience had a positive effect on their grades. About 57 percent said their job search after graduation benefited from their experiences away from the classroom.

"Most of the deans of admissions, at most of the best colleges in the country, absolutely believe that their schools would be better off if every single student took time off," said Ron Lieber, co-author of "Taking Time Off."

Lieber explained the hard part is convincing parents that a gap year will not be a slacker's year.

"Taking time off is almost like school in the sense that you need to plan everyday, every month," says Lieber. "You need a lesson plan. You need a syllabus. It's not something you figure out as you go along, because the point of the exercise is to create a year for yourself that's better, that's more valuable than being at college at that particular moment."

That's just what Trudee Goodman did. Four years ago, she was graduating from high school and exhausted herself with her studies.

"I was at the same school for 10 years," said Goodman. "It was really very rigorous, academically. I was ready for a different type of challenge."

So, she took a gap year and moved from Houston to Boston where she joined a domestic Peace Corp, offering her services in troubled schools and neighborhoods.

"I was in Boston often until 7 or 8 at night, and then, made the hour long commute back to the suburbs," she said. "But I felt like this is much more real, if you will, then what my friends are experiencing."

And, as if logging 1,700 hours of community service wasn't enough of a life lesson, Goodman lived with her grandparents.

"My grandmother had more of a social life than I did that year," laughed Goodman.

After one year, Goodman was ready to dive back into academia at Trinity College, in Hartford, Conn.

"I had some experiences to share as examples in classes that I never would of had, had I not had this experience," she said.

Just three weeks ago, Goodman graduated from Trinity. And while most of her peers are facing the real world for the first time, she can say she's has done if before.

"You'll realize how quickly a year goes by, if anything, that's what I learned," said Goodman. "And just make the most of all the little moments and experiences you have within that year, because it will serve you well into the future."

Goodman has already accepted a job as an elementary school teacher. She said her gap year experience really stood out on her resume.

Here are some "gap year" tips from the authors of "Taking Time Off":

  • Talk to people who have taken a gap year, doing the same thing you'd like to do, to see what they'd do differently - and what they're glad they did.
  • Consider using a time-off consultant. They can make the planning easier and tell you about opportunities you might never find on your own.
  • Ask your college if it has grants available to students who are traveling or doing community service.
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