volunteer gap year

Parent College Coach Tip #27: Don’t Fear the Gap Year

Updated 10/11/2018

“I want to take a year before I go to college,” says your almost-graduated-from-high-school student. Cue parental fear! You’ve entered the GAP YEAR ZONE!

But what do we fear? We fear our student won’t want to go back to school after being off for a year or they’ll lie around the house, watch TV and play video games. Or wait! Maybe they aren’t thinking clearly and have no idea what they are saying! And for those competitive parents, it’s not what they had planned for their child at all.

We’re here to tell you: you don’t necessarily need to fear the gap year.

Have a serious conversation

If your student is considering a gap year, you should have a serious conversation — without judgment. Let them talk and listen. Try to find out why they want to take this time away from studying. Is it about fear of college, are they afraid of failing or not being accepted, or are they simply unsure about what they want to do? Knowing what’s in their heads will make their decision easier to manage.

Related: The Four-Year Gap Year

Be straightforward and honest

Be encouraging if you figure out their reasons are motivated by a fear of failing. Point out their strengths and offer to help if they are struggling. Consider tutoring or hiring a professional college counselor to help them make some decisions. If they truly don’t feel college is for them, be supportive and help brainstorm what the next year could be like.

Make a plan

Most importantly, gap years are successful and beneficial if your student has a plan. Create a structure of plans and activities all with a common, active goal of self-exploration. Your student could work and save money for college, or investigate internships or apprenticeships in areas they are interested in. They could travel and work abroad. Even the smallest communities need able-bodied and minded volunteers! A gap year is all about making a plan, setting the ground rules, and making sure the student knows what is expected of them.

Lastly, gap years are becoming more and more acceptable, especially with U.S. colleges. Deferring college for a year is not as uncommon as it used to be.  Not all students are ready for college. Push and they will suffer the consequences. Keep an open mind, discuss the possibilities, and breathe deeply. It could be the best year in your student’s life.