Guest Expert

Is a Gap Year a Good Fit for Your Child?

Gap Year

Can you imagine nearly 13 years of daily challenges, frustrations, obstacles, struggles, and frequent failures that seem insurmountable? What would it feel like to finally succeed, to put an end to that misery once you cross the stage to receive your diploma, only to be expected to relive it for another 4 or 5 years, in a completely new and strange environment, without the supports you've grown to rely on?

Not all ADHD youth feel this way, but many certainly do. The mixture of emotions takes its toll on many young adults as they wrestle with an internal conflict: pride in finally finishing high school and overwhelming anxiety associated with going off to college in the fall to do it all over again.

There is a new wave taking hold in America that eases this conflict. Gap years are gaining momentum as a viable option for those who could use a break from the rigors of academia. It is also an opportunity for youth to mature, experience a period of self-discovery, learn valuable life skills, find a direction or calling, unwind from the stressors of the school environment, and be on their own for the first time -- without having to manage yet another academic semester.

Does it sound like an easy way out? Are you concerned if your child takes a Gap Year, they will never get back to school?

In fact, students who take a Gap Year are more likely to complete college than those who go straight from high school to college. The benefits of a Gap Year are numerous:

  • Young adults get the opportunity to recharge and find a purpose worthy of pursuing a degree
  • They have the opportunity to string together a series of personal successes to increase their self-efficacy
  • They get an extra year to mature both personally and socially
  • They learn life skills necessary for success in a college setting
  • They get the chance to discover their own strengths in a supportive, nurturing environment

The questions and answers below should help answer some of the bigger questions you may have about a Gap Year.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a period of time when students take a break from formal education to travel, volunteer, study, intern, work, perform research, or any combination of these activities. A gap year can also be called an interim year, deferring college, or taking time out. Students who take a gap are also known as "gappers."

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When is the best time to take one?

Most students take a gap between the end of high school and the beginning of college. Some take time over summer vacation or even a semester off. Some take time off during college. Others go after college, but before entering graduate school or starting a career.

Does a gap year have to last a whole year?

No. A gap experience can be a single semester or a year or more.

What are the benefits?

In addition to the benefits bulleted above, a gap year can help:

  • Clarify career interests and goals
  • Develop organizational and life skills
  • Renew passion for academic coursework and learning
  • Gain a sense of maturity and self-confidence
  • Discover interests and passions prior to committing to college or a job
  • Broaden perspective of other cultures, views, and global awareness
  • Improve job prospects with employers seeking grads with practical experience

What do US colleges say about taking a gap year?

Leading US colleges and universities, notably Harvard University, openly support a gap year for admitted first-year students. Generally speaking, higher education institutions recognize that students enter college with more maturity, self-confidence, wisdom, and experience to handle challenges as they arise by taking a productive year out. Many universities now allow accepted students to defer entrance for one year.

How does my child defer college entrance to take a gap year?

Make a formal request in writing after your child has accepted admission. Ensure the request demonstrates a well-structured plan with an outline of the goals and benefits you hope to gain during your gap year. Discuss why your child wants to defer admission, what she or he hopes to do during the semester or year off, and why your child wants to hold a place at the college. These requests are often granted, and students go on to do many exciting things.

My child wants to take one before college. Should they even apply to college first?

Even if you know ahead of time that your child may want to take a gap year, he should go through the college application process during senior year and choose a college. Your child may then be able to defer admission one year. It is best to contact the colleges' admissions office directly to ask them if it is included in their written admissions policies.

I am concerned that if my child takes a gap year, they will be older than other students when they start college.

Nowadays, many students enroll at different ages. You will find that many other students will have taken a year out like your child.

How do I know if it's right for my child?

Read the following scenarios and see if any apply to your child. If so, your child may be ready to truly benefit from a gap year experience.

  • Not ready for college. Perhaps your child lacks self-confidence or has not clearly defined their interests/career options.
  • Your child has had their fill of academics and wants to take a breather so they can arrive on campus refreshed and ready to give their best.
  • Your child knows why they are going to college, but wants a competitive edge over other students. They want real life experience that builds their resume and makes them more attractive to future employers.
  • Your child hasn't been able to choose a major and doesn't really know what they are truly passionate about.
  • Your child hasn't been accepted to the college of their choice and wants to use their gap experience to improve their application and make them more appealing to the school.

The benefits of taking a Gap Year are many and long-lasting. Gaining life experience is viewed favorably by universities and prospective employers. Young adults who have experienced a Gap Year have had the opportunity to problem-solve real life situations, leave home and gain independence, mature for another year, become more self- motivated, and have experiences that may help them have a better direction for what career or degree they want to pursue.

The options for what a Gap Year can look like are limitless. Don't be intimidated by your child trying something different or doing something out of the ordinary. After all, we are all unique human beings and deserve to live life outside the box at times – especially for young adults with a complex relationship to learning and life.

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