Of course, there are a growing number of parents who understand what a gap year is, and often actually encourage it, but for many "I want to take a year before I go to college” are some of the most feared and unexpected words by parents.
What do we fear? We fear they won’t want to go back to school after being off for a year. We fear they will lie around the house, watch TV, and play video games. We fear they aren’t thinking clearly and have no idea what they are saying. And for those competitive parents, it’s not what they planned.
Don’t fear the gap year. Not every student is ready for college after high school. Some simply aren’t mature enough, and others simply don’t know where they want to go or what they want to study. And if this were the case, would you want to spend thousands of dollars on college if it meant your son or daughter would possibly drop out after his or her first semester? Of course, you certainly wouldn’t want that.
Have a serious conversation about what a gap year means.
If your student is considering a gap year, you need to have a serious conversation—without judgment. Let them talk and you listen. Try to find out why they want to take a gap year. Is it a fear of college? Are they afraid of failing or not being accepted? Or are they simply unsure about what they want to do? Once you know their reasoning, it will be easier to understand their decision.
Be straightforward and honest.
If you ascertain that their reasons are motivated by fear of failing, be encouraging. Point out their strengths and offer to help if they are struggling. Tutoring might help or consider hiring a professional college counselor to assist them with some key decisions. If they truly don’t feel college is for them, be supportive and discuss what the next year will be like.
Make a gap year plan.
Gap years are successful and beneficial if your student has a plan. During this year, they should work toward determining what they want to do once the year is up. This can be accomplished in many different ways. They could work and save money for college. They could research internships or apprenticeships in career areas of interest. They could travel and work abroad. It’s all about making a plan, setting the ground rules, and making sure they understand what is expected of them.
Gap years are becoming more and more acceptable, especially with colleges. Once your student has been accepted, it’s not uncommon for them to defer admission for a year and use that time to get focused. And remember, that not all students are ready for college. Push and they will suffer the consequences. They may land on campus and change majors, take a longer time to graduate, or even drop out. So, keep an open mind, discuss the possibilities and the opportunities that come with taking a gap year, and breathe deeply. It could be the best year of your student’s life.
When your student broaches the subject of a gap year, don’t panic. Again, many colleges are actually encouraging a gap year for admitted students. Plus, in today's competitive entry-level job market, many future employers also view a gap year as a positive. Many will attest to the fact that these young prospective employees have learned to use their time productively and have gained many practical life skills.
It’s your job, as a parent to determine the reasons for your son or daughter's gap year request and help decide which gap year program would best fit their interests and needs.