Tips for Parents

Is Taking a Gap Year Right for your High School Student?

As second semester of senior year hits for your high school student, senioritis may start to look more like a terminal problem than a temporary one. While some students are applying and accepting admission to colleges, others see one semester of school as an insurmountable feat – let alone four or five more years.

If that sounds like your student, maybe a “gap year” – or a year between high school and college – is the solution. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the number of universities that promote gap years has multiplied fourfold in the past four years nationwide. Time spent during this gap year can range from volunteering, traveling, interning to gain experience or working to save money. Consider the following benefits to your student taking a year off before entering college:

Solidifying plans. The transition from high school to college is rife with decisions: where to go to school, where to live, whom to live with, what to study, what extracurricular activities to pursue. If your student is unsure and fickle about his choices, that could end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of inconvenience if he transfers schools, loses credits or decides not to pursue a career in his major. Taking a year off can help him understand who he is, where he wants to be in the future and how he can get there.

Recuperation. For high-achieving high school students, burn out is a risk. A student who poured the last four years into a stellar GPA, involvement in extracurricular activities and competitive sports might not have the gusto to jump right into another demanding environment. An Australian study in the Journal of Educational Psychology claims that taking a gap year correlates with higher motivation in college. By the time the gap year reaches its end, your student will likely be ready and excited to get back into school.

Taking ownership. For some students, childhood until this point has been a mapped-out path handed down from their parents or society. Their participation and involvement in school, friends and extracurricular activities has been guided, or at least condoned, by other people’s influence – for some students more than others. But whether your student has barely flexed his rebellious muscles or seems to have arm wrestled the authority right out of you, this period of time is critical in him taking responsibility for his choices. Gaining independence and taking ownership in his future might mean straying off the path you envisioned for him, but that’s OK.

If a gap year seems like a good option for your student, and he’s already been accepted to college, check to see if he can defer admission to school for one year. Also help him come up with a plan – financial and otherwise – so his gap year is spent wisely. Above all, keep communication lines open and stay supportive, so you and your student can agree on what’s best for him.

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