Some high school seniors have started to receive college acceptances, while others are finishing up their college and scholarship applications. Both seniors and juniors are lining up college visits for spring break. Good for them. But what about the teenager who is having second thoughts about college or is so sick of school that she doesn’t want to think about college? For those teenagers, going to college right after high school is not the right path to take. Other students may simply want to take a break from academics, while making a difference. If your child fits in any of these categories, he should think about taking a gap year, or any amount of gap time.
Gap time can fall between high school and college, or during college years; it is a period when a student takes time off academics and pursues something else, such as a service learning opportunity. A gap year is a time when your teenager should mostly be on his own, learning, experiencing, and maturing outside the academic setting.
There are plenty of organized gap year programs, although many are expensive; one exception is Americorps—a domestic Peace Corps that sends young adults all over the United States on community-service type projects. Americorps participants receive a stipend and can earn money toward college. Know also that several colleges will defer enrollment to accepted students for one year if a student is enrolled in a sanctioned gap year program. If your student has some favorite colleges in mind, it is worth the research to find out if such an offer is available.
But many parents gasp at the idea of their teenager taking time off—afraid that he or she would never go to college. Sometimes that happens, but generally, the gap gives a young adult the chance to take a breather and usually results in a much more focused, serious student whenever he returns to the classroom. Not only should parents ask their teenager what she wants to do after high school, but parents themselves also should evaluate their teenager’s college readiness.
Those students who still need time to mature, who still haven’t figured out how to prioritize and self-advocate, who still avoid difficult decisions, who still can’t live on a budget, who have not been given the opportunity to learn from mistakes, or who simply are sick of school—are the students who need to take some time before committing dollars and time to college. Other gap options for these students include the military or creating their own service learning adventure—anywhere in the world. Maybe he just wants to be out on his own working for awhile or maybe she just needs to see how the world works away from mom and dad. Some simply may want to work for a while, during which time many realize they really do need and want to go to college.
Regardless of parents’ opinion of a gap year, remember that it is your teenager’s life and he needs to choose his own path. The parent role is to help that young person find success in whatever she chooses. Take a deep breath, ask your teenager what she wants after high school, and listen—really listen—then ask how she plans to get there, and be willing to help her find the path to success.
P. Carol Jones is the author of “Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able.” Visit www.towardcollegesuccess.com to read excerpts and to follow her blog. Ferah Aziz is a college coach with launchphase2. Visit www.launchphase2 to learn more about coaching for college bound students.