A gap year is defined as a year between completing high school and beginning college. Common in Europe, gap years are still considered somewhat unusual in the United States, as parents and students feel the pressure to succeed and continue the education process. A gap year can be a positive and enriching experience if approached correctly and with guidance from parents or mentors. However, it can also lead to a lack of direction and motivation if the young adult taking a gap year is not self-motivated or self-sufficient enough to stay on track and enthused about whatever alternative activities he chooses.
What to Consider Regarding a Gap Year
For many who are considering a gap year, especially those who are high achievers and worked especially hard in high school, a gap year can be an opportunity to decompress and refocus before beginning the arduous task of college studies. After being accepted at a college or university, students can opt to defer admission for a year - but they should use caution when doing this, as some financial aid and scholarships can be affected by this choice. Each school has its own policies, so be sure to check with the admissions office before making a decision about waiting a year to enroll.
For less motivated students, a gap year can have a negative impact on their plans to attend college, especially if they have entered the job market and are earning money and have experienced some independence as an adult. While college is certainly not for everyone, if it's something being considered this needs to be factored into the decision.
Study habits can be forgotten over 12 months, and seeing friends and classmates heading off to college, whether living at home or on campus, can be disheartening for those not attending school. Take into account the maturity level of the student before deciding if a gap year is a good idea.
What to Do During a Gap Year
Depending on what the young adult is hoping to gain from a gap year, there are lots of options for how to spend the time off.
Here are a few options:
- Working full time to save money to pay for college
- Volunteering in a field that is of interest as a possible career
- Interning at a company that is of interest as a possible career
- Traveling the world to expand knowledge and experiences
- Pursuing artistic endeavors: music, art, theater - whether taking lessons or participating in productions or shows
- Spending time with family that lives far away - learning about themselves and their heritage
- Coaching, mentoring, tutoring, or otherwise engaging with children
What should not be done during a gap year:
- Lying around the house playing video games
- Aimlessly wandering around malls
- Surfing the internet with no goal in mind for hours on end
- Living at home and not helping around the house
- Being unproductive (not getting a job, not volunteering)
- Regretting not starting college
Be Honest and Open
As the parent of a young adult considering a gap year, it's important to be completely honest with yourself and your child about the pros and cons, and whether or not you believe taking a year off to spend a year away from his formal education to pursue other interests will ultimately serve their best interest. For artistic young adults, or those who have a very specific skill or interest (computer programming, writing), a gap year can offer the opportunity to explore these inherent talents and skills in-depth while still at an age when they are comfortable living at home - and the parents are comfortable having them live at home.
If a gap year is decided on by parents and student, it's important to lay out all of the parameters, from financial obligations to personal responsibilities, so that everyone is comfortable with the choice. A contract outlining what is expected - including enrolling in school the following year - is a good idea and will hold the student accountable.
A gap year should not be looked at as an opportunity to take it easy for 12 months - in fact, students should be doing activities that will build their resumes and, when prospective employers ask about their gap year, they will have positive and enriching experiences to share.