Should your Student Take a Gap Year?

What's that your high school student said? They want to take a "gap year"?

Commonly thought of as a year off before college or graduate school, gap years are growing in popularity. Even the president's daughter Malia Obama has recently decided to take a gap year before heading to Harvard in 2017.

The American Gap Association has reported that students who defer admission to a college to take a year off is just as likely to attend school as students who head to college right away.

In addition, a gap year has been associated with stronger academic performance in college. Students who take gap years report being more confident in college, and more satisfied in their careers.

All that being said, a gap year is not for everyone. When is it a good idea for your student? 

Burn Out

How was your teenager's high school experience? Was it a hard push getting through the last courses, taking placement tests and applying for schools? Is he demonstrating passion and drive for a subject of study or is he floundering? 

Ms. Obama's chosen college, Harvard University, actively encourages students to take a gap year to avoid burn out. If your student has been under a lot of pressure and could use a break, this is an option to consider.

Some students are on a roll exiting high school. If your student is in her academic prime, she may want to stick with it. But if she isn't bouncing off to class, hungry to learn, perhaps some time away from class will be beneficial. 

Choice of College Major is "Undecided"

Studies have shown that students who choose a good fit major fit them get better grades and graduate on time. Students who hit college before deciding on a major often try different things, change paths and then take longer to graduate. One of the benefits of a gap year is that students commonly have a better idea of what they want to major in when they enroll in college. 

A well-planned gap year can include time spent reading and researching, as well as experimenting with different jobs, internships or volunteer opportunities that can help them find out what they want to do as a career. 

Your Student Could Use Some Growing Up

Many students are simply not ready to be away from home. It's not uncommon for a college student to drop out after a semester or two due to homesickness.

If you have a student who is struggling with leaving home perhaps they need a little extra time to mature, gain confidence in themselves, and gain social skills. 

Students in this group may benefit from getting a job or volunteering in an area that stretches their boundaries while still living in the comfort of home and familiar faces. They will find themselves gradually becoming more confident and outgoing.

Your Student is Not Excited About College

Did your student miss out on the school they truly desired? If you have a student that is unenthusiastic about their college choice it could be a mistake to push them into it. 

Perhaps some time off may help them gain perspective and regain their excitement. Perhaps it may help them gain admittance to the college they really wanted to go to. Or perhaps they will find a job they really love and choose to bypass college to pursue a career. Being able to make this realization while being free of debt is very beneficial.

Your Student Has a Plan for Their Time Off

A gap year isn't a vacation. It's an important part of a student's growth and education.

If your student just wants to hang out with friends and watch TV in your basement this is a red flag!

Students should be using their gap year to explore interests, work on a project, travel, or earn money. Have them come up with a list of books they will read, projects to complete, topics to research, people to talk to and places to visit. 

So, Should Your Student Take a Gap Year?

A gap year, properly planned and executed, could be a great move for your student. But a break just to take a break could become a trend of taking the easy road. Ask the right questions, make a plan and decide if a gap year is the proper maneuver for your student.