In 2020, 3,650,000 high school students received their diplomas. After 12 years of hard work and dedication, these young people excitedly closed this chapter of their lives and looked expectantly into the future.
But, each one of them had to face the daunting question of how to begin that future.
Your high schooler has seemingly countless decisions to make as they approach their own graduation. Up to this point, their entire life was mapped out for them. Now, all of that structure and certainty is soon to be in the past. Suddenly, they will be in charge.
While some young adults have a clear vision of their next steps, others are still looking for the right course of action. Whether they know what their plan is or they’re still working that out, your student has an immediate decision to make: whether or not to take a gap year.
What is a Gap Year?
A “gap year” is time away from academia between high school graduation and college enrollment. While it’s called a “year,” there’s actually no set length of time. Some students take an entire year or more, while others simply take a semester. The point is to take a break between high school and college.
“The reasons for taking a gap year might vary for each person. Some take a gap year to have a break from studying; others might do it to work and earn money, see the world, or develop new skills,” Bay Atlantic University advises graduates. “While many might fear that a gap year might be wasted time, this isn’t the case at all. This opportunity to relax and work on yourself can help you greatly in the future.”
As beneficial as it can be, a gap year isn’t for everyone. For some young adults, it’s an excellent decision; for others, it’s not a good choice. If your teen is considering a gap year after their graduation, take some time to sit down together to examine the potential benefits or drawbacks.
What the Data Says
Research on the so-called “gap year” is still new and fairly limited. Academic breaks between high school and college are growing in popularity, and while many young adults have reported success, anecdotal evidence isn’t exactly conclusive. However, the results of various research studies have been positive so far.
The Gap Year Association has examined several of these studies and compiled, in part, the following data. Gap year students:
- report an overwhelming sense of satisfaction with their jobs
- have often performed above and beyond statistical expectations during all four years of their college studies, especially during their first semester
- nearly always find that their gap experience influences their choice of college major and future career
- appear to be comparatively more mature, self-sufficient, and independent than their non-gap year peers
- 88% of gap year graduates attributed additional employment value to their time off
Students have many reasons for pursuing a gap year as they enter their adult life. According to Wonder, one study found that students cited their top reasons to be:
- get life experience
- develop themselves
- travel to experience other cultures and varying perspectives
- gain life experiences
- grow personally
What You Should Know
Regardless of the promising research, and despite the benefits of taking a gap year, taking this time off isn’t something to jump into. Students and their parents should carefully consider the pros and cons of taking a gap year before committing to this plan.
1. Taking a gap year provides an excellent opportunity to gain some hands-on training and life experience. Many students make the most of this time by meeting deliberate goals, enhancing their résumé, and choosing to educate themselves outside of a classroom.
Scholarships360 examines this idea, “A gap year can also benefit students who are craving experiential learning. This can be through working at a job, in a laboratory, on a farm, or even at a grocery store. The classroom is a great place to learn, but it has its limits. By going out into the world, you’ll be learning things that cannot be taught in class. These skills may make you more successful when you show up to college.”
2. High school graduation represents a serious step forward in life. It also represents a drastic change from childhood to adulthood. Some students aren’t ready to jump into college life immediately after high school and simply need some time to prepare and mature.
Go Overseas notes, “According to a survey conducted by YouthTruth, in fact, only 1 in 2 students feel academically prepared for college. While this stat can certainly be affected by school ranking and economic variables, it speaks to a widespread truth that gap years are a much needed transitional experience for many high school graduates.”
3. During their gap year, young adults have time and opportunity to explore and discover themselves. As they leave their old life behind and gaze into the possibilities of their future, most teens experience a sense of wonder and self-reflection.
According to Global Citizen Year, “By taking a gap year, students will have extra time to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their life without having to stress about or even feel that college is an obligation rather than something fun that will take you many places.”
4. Taking a gap year is an excellent way to clear your head. During this time, young adults can meet long-awaited goals or give back to their community. It’s never a bad idea to focus on mental health and establish individuality.
CollegeVine suggests, “Gap years can also be a great time to devote yourself to volunteering, finally finish your list of books to read, or thoroughly reflect upon your personal and career goals.”
5. For those who want some financial security, a gap year is an excellent opportunity to work to ensure some monetary stability. Whether a student wants to establish themselves at their job before working their way through college or pad their savings so that they don’t have to worry about funds while studying, a gap year may be just what they need.
Bay Atlantic University examines this idea: “During a gap year, you can enhance the feeling of freedom by working and gaining financial freedom. Your job can help you acquire new skills and get the experience that might come in handy during college, postgraduate studies, and in the workplace. To make the year even more fun, you can apply for jobs abroad.”
1. Taking a gap year can extend your school time, keeping you from establishing your life earlier. This could have long-term consequences, depending on your goals.
Western Governors University explains, “Some students find that their gap year has delayed their college plans, which in turn will delay their timeline to get a job. For some students, this break or delay in college can hinder them. And some students may never go back if they take time off after high school.”
2. It can be challenging for young adults to see their peers moving on with their lives and achieving success while they themselves feel stuck or unsure how to move forward. It can leave them feeling isolated.
College Vine contemplates this. “Many students who take a gap year struggle with the feeling that they’re being ‘left behind’ as many of their friends go off to start school. This feeling can persist until graduation, when all their former classmates graduate, but these students still have another year in school. Unless you feel very confident and secure in your decision to take a year off from school, you may experience some degree of alienation from your high school classmates.”
3. While it can be highly beneficial for some students, a gap year can also be an added and unnecessary expense. Working could, of course, help with this problem, but only if that’s how you wish to spend your break.
Scholarships360 notes, “Depending on how you spend your gap year, it could be a financial drain to you or your parents. College is already a huge expense, and enrolling in an expensive gap year program may seem financially overwhelming. If this is the case for you, remember that there are inexpensive gap year options.”
4. Taking time off has the potential for waste. Unless a student outlines some goals or sticks to a specific plan, a gap year might cost more in time than it gives in other aspects.
Western Governors University cautions, “A gap year requires careful planning in order for students to make the best use of their time and money. And it takes careful planning to arrange coming back to college as well. For some students, all this extra work may simply not be worth it to have a gap year experience.”
5. Every young student knows the struggle of coming back to school after a summer break and finding it difficult to get back into their studies. The same thing happens to young adults who take a gap year.
Scholarships360 acknowledges this. “Taking a year off school can be a great idea to help refresh your mind. However, some students may find it difficult to get back into the flow after taking such a long time off. Remember, the transition to college is always a bit jarring. Taking a year off has the potential to make it easier and open your mind to new experiences. But it also may make the return to traditional academics difficult.”
Back to School, Or School to the Back?
Twelve years of schooling is a stressful and long-term commitment, and high school graduation signifies a tremendous victory for both the student and the parents. Whether your teen decides to head straight to college or take some time off, there is no right or wrong answer. The important thing is that you’ve thought through all aspects together and have come to an informed conclusion that suits your individual student best.
A gap year offers a mental health break, time for your teen to discover themselves, and a chance to thoughtfully consider their next steps. Marching forward and beginning college directly out of high school can give them a jumpstart on their future, keep their academic game on, and keep them dedicated and focused.
Regardless of what path they take, you’re ready to guide them through this exciting time with some basic info in hand!