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Do you have a soon-to-be high school graduate who is researching colleges, visiting campuses and getting ready to complete the Common App? Then it is probably an exciting time, but possibly also a stressful one for your family due to the fact that there are so many important decisions to be made.

Perhaps your son or daughter is also starting to explore the idea of taking a gap year, defined by the American Gap Association as “an experiential semester or year "on," typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

Hmm. A gap year sounds interesting you say... tell me more.

You may have heard about a student from your son’s high school who traveled for six months after graduating last year. Or you remember that a few years ago your neighbor’s daughter interned for a year to explore career options before starting university. These are two common gap year experiences.

If you’d like to learn more, a reliable resource about gap years is the American Gap Association. They share the following history of gap years on their site:

“Gap Years originally started in the United Kingdom in the 1970's as a way to fill the 7-or 8-month gap between final exams and the beginning of university. The intention in the UK for that time was to contribute to the development of the student usually through an extended international experience.

Gap Years came to the United States in the early 1980's through the work of Cornelius H. Bull, founder of Center for Interim Programs. Since its transition to the United States, Gap Years have taken on a life of their own - now embodying every manner of program and opportunity imaginable, both domestically and internationally, all with the shared purpose of increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers. Since their broader acceptance into the American system of education, they have served the added benefit of ameliorating a sense of academic burnout. In fact, in a recent study, one of the two biggest reasons Gap Year students chose to take a Gap Year was precisely to address academic burnout.”

This all sounds good you may say, but what do colleges think about gap years?

More and more, colleges and universities understand the value of a gap year. Many notable schools, including Harvard, Middlebury, and Princeton to name a few, allow (and may even encourage) students to defer for one year to spend time in a “meaningful” way. The year may be structured or unstructured, support a student’s academic or service goals, or be a time for personal reflection, travel or skill building. Often students choose to intern for the year to gain valuable career experience.

There's a growing body of research indicating that taking a some time between high school and college is the right step for many students.

So if your son or daughter is thinking of a gap year, keep an open mind, do your research and be sure to sit down with your child and clear identify goals for the year.