I’ve heard many parents of rising high school seniors say something along these lines:
“My child wants to take a gap year. S/he isn’t sure what to major in and doesn’t feel ready for the pressure and focus of college. I’ve heard a gap year is a good idea. But I don’t know what it would be like or what it could do for my child.”
Be reassured that a gap year isn’t simply trendy. It doesn’t have to be a lazy option, either. It’s not for everybody, but it may be a good option for your child.
A Washington Post article quotes Vice President of student affairs at Grinnell College in Iowa, Houston Dougharty; he says gap years can be “excellent opportunities for students to mature, follow a passion, or scratch an itch they’ve got, and return a year later.” He warns that the time can be wasted, though.
Don’t let your teen waste their time
In order to avoid a wasted experience, structure is important. Sally Rubenstone, who writes the “Ask the Dean” column for CollegeConfidential.com site, says that “poor planning is the biggest gap-year pitfall.” Her advice: “Map out a careful blueprint of the year to come. Be specific. For instance, while a paying job can be a good way to fill hours, to make money for college down the road, and to possibly learn new skills, what happens at the end of the work day, when the night is still young and there is no homework to do? And if travel is on the docket, is there a realistic budget in place?”
One response is to take a course, says Sallie McMullin, dean of admissions at Longwood University, a state school in Farmville, Virginia. She urges students who work during a gap year to “keep your foot in the door at school by taking a course at a community college, because once you start making money, it’s hard to go backwards. If there’s any income involved or too much relaxation with a lot of downtime, they can’t get the study habits back again.”
One thing we do here at TeenLife is compile gap year resources. We also provide ideas for where to do community service.
Here are some first steps: get some ideas about what’s out there. There are so many ways to go. Think about your expectations. Factor in your budget. Have your child consider why this gap year idea appeals. First and foremost, make sure this decision process is a good one between you and your child.