Why Vanguard Gap Year

November 16, 2020

Jacob Estep shares about his journey to—and the first couple of months in—Vanguard, the Christian gap year of Wheaton College.

Senior year loomed ahead. With this final year also came the constant questions all high school seniors get. “What are you doing after you graduate?” “What college are you going to?” The questions had been ringing in my ears for months now, and I still didn't have a definite answer. College seemed like the obvious answer, it’s what everyone did. You finish high school and go to college, it’s just the next step. But for me, I was burned out, I needed more than just a summer off before I plunged into four more years of intense education. To me, it sounded like torture. As I went forward in my senior year, the question was continually in the forefront of my mind—what will I do after high school? Then came the idea of gap year programs.

I had heard of gap year programs before, but they always seemed to be looked down upon. It was always one of those, “Oh a gap year huh? So, are you like, not ready for college?” They were always talked about with a negative connotation. After a while though, I started hearing more positive things about them. How they had been a time of reset, but also a time to work and learn about who God wanted them to be, and how it had been a much-needed break for those who weren’t ready to take on a full college load. With this in mind, I started looking into a few programs. Some were very classroom-oriented, some were very work-oriented. There were many options, but I chose Vanguard. Why?

jacob estep reading

Before I share that, I think I should tell you a little about me. I am a nineteen-year-old who loves the outdoors. Yes, the classroom has its place, but if I can learn from doing and be outside more than inside, then sign me up. Vanguard provided that, both the classroom time as well as the outdoor education piece. It piqued my interest since I was looking for a reprieve from the hard-core education. The teachers and Fellows here at HoneyRock don't just tell you about the subject, they make you think, and tie it all together into the God-centered, educational, fun, and communal society that is Vanguard. You don't just see the teachers and leaders during class, you are living with them and get to build relationships with everyone here.

Another very important part of Vanguard is the history of the program. For me, one who loves history, I have found learning about what Vanguard used to be and seeing how that shaped what it is today fascinating. Many of the current Vanguards here have family members who also did a variation of the program, which just makes the community more tightly knit than it already was. I can compare stories I’ve heard from when my mother was at HoneyRock to other Vanguards’ parents’ memories and see how the program has changed from a three-week pre-college wilderness trip to what it is now: a full-fledged nine-month gap-year program.

vanguard guys on trip

When I look back at the moment that I chose to apply to Vanguard, I knew I wasn't just applying to a gap-year program. I was applying to a life-changing year that would challenge my faith and grow me in ways not only mentally but also spiritually and physically. I was joining a community where we could learn to trust each other and help each other grow and mature. Everyone here has different experiences and views which has allowed us to have deep and enjoyable conversations that could range from surface-level to deep theological ones that have run late into the night.

cyndi parker teaching at honeyrock

There is not a better community to be in to grow both spiritually and mentally. It feels like Vanguards, Fellows, and graduate students are traveling the same road. We might be at different mile-markers, but we’re on the road together. It never matters what question you have, whether it is a question during one of the seminars that introduces God’s big story, a seminar that went through the entire Bible in four days, or you just want to pick someone's brain, no one is ever too busy for you and they will make time for you. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to step back, reflect, and grow more than they ever thought they would in more ways than they thought they ever could. –Jacob Estep, Vanguard


meg wolfe takes selfie
Vanguard: Year at a Glance

Vanguard, the Christian gap year of Wheaton College, offers incredible opportunities to ask big questions, explore the world, and discover purpose before college. Check out the 30,000-foot view of the year by clicking the link, below!