Not everyone wants to jump directly from high school to college, and The Gap Year Bros. exists as a resource for those grads — even in the midst of a pandemic.

Cooper, Michael and Max Charlton, all raised in Hudson, formed the consulting business this winter in hopes of providing a framework for making the most of the year between high school and college — the gap year.

“We have a service, I think, that is super beneficial, that creates a big impact and change with the youth, but also the families,” said Michael, 23.

Oldest brother Cooper, 27, said the business was created to give direction and educate grads and families about the possibilities during a gap year.

“We created this business to create the structure so that any type of person can take a gap year,” he said.

COVID-19 had a chilling effect on the business over the past two months, but he said he believes it may have more people thinking of taking a gap year as college campuses decide whether to have in-person classes.

“Students are actually turning to gap years more in this crisis,” he said. “They’re thinking that paying $20,000 for online education might not be the best option.”

Cooper said The Gap Year Brothers were talking to about 15 students prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they lost contact as families tried to plan conservatively for an economic downturn. 

“We have had a few people start to reach out again,” he said. “We’re kind of starting the sales cycle all over again. We’re also kind of pivoting and adapting to COVID-19.”

All three of the young men took gap years themselves, but each was very distinct.

For example, Michael, who has been a senior at the University of Cincinnati this year, traveled, worked and raised funds for college during the gap year.

Max also incorporated both work and travel.

“In the middle part of it, I did some traveling; I was able to go to southeast Asia and some countries in Europe,” said Max. “I also did some work to raise some money for the next year in school.”

Before leaving for Asia, he said he also spent time volunteering and job shadowing.

The trio of brothers has been working in recent months to begin making connections with school counselors and making themselves known in area communities, according to Michael.

“I think outreach has been the goal,” he said.

Once a student and her family have decided they’re interested in a gap year, Cooper said the brothers consult with the family to begin putting them at ease and learning about the grad.

“We try to ignite a fire,” he said. “Whoever that person is, we treat as an individual.”

The brothers consider grads’ goals, tastes, personality and more in helping to plan out a gap year in a “discovery session,” said Cooper.

According to gapyearbrothers.com, the basic framework they suggest includes four pillars: travel, work, service and school (primarily working to decide on a college).

“We also help people experience service work, job shadowing and career development,” said Cooper.

They are working to develop a network of business professionals willing to offer job shadowing opportunities, he said.

“We want a network that allows people to do a day if not a full week worth of shadowing,” he said.

One factor that can’t be ignored is finances, and that is something the brothers consider.

“A gap year can range from very expensive to not very expensive at all,” said Max, 19. “A big part of my year was job shadowing. Most adults love to talk about what they do, and that’s absolutely free.”

Michael’s solution was to make fundraising part of the gap year experience.

“To get to Kenya, I self-raised about $7,000,” he said. “That was a very impactful experience.”

He said he marketed himself in a variety of venues to raise the money, which he said was, in itself, a valuable experience. He also saved up while working at an oyster farm at Fishers Island, New York.

Cooper said the brothers are working to develop options that are more likely to work in the era of COVID-19, focusing more on outdoor experiences, job shadowing and shorter time frames for “gap year” experiences. 

“We’re offering six- and eight-week programs that still builds in all our values and core offerings for the fall semester time period,” he said, explaining outdoor experiences are a new focus under the assumption they’ll be easier to adapt to social distancing needs than something like airplane travel.

Benefits of a gap year

All three brothers reported they were more focused and better prepared for college after their gap years.

“One of the big take aways from my gap year was the confidence I received,” said Max. “Doing things on my own and creating independent plans really built confidence in my head that I could do all these things like go to college and live on my own and create budget.”

Cooper said the time spent on gap years can help people focus in on their interests and talents, as well.

“You’re making an investment in yourself that’s going to pay out in your future,” he said, explaining that job shadowing and volunteerism can help students rule in and rule out potential majors.

He also said grads can learn a lot of practical life skills, such as managing money and financial planning.

The gap year also enables grads to “get out of ingrained mindsets” by seeing and experiencing different people and places.

Michael said Gap Year Brothers can help grads realize the potential of that one year between high school and college that’s usually not mapped out in some form years in advance.

“I think the big thing for us is, we really want to create a space and empower these young adults and educate them and say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to go straight to college,’” he said.

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-620-8786, bgaetjens@recordpub.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.