Although many high school graduates make a beeline for college in the fall, increasing numbers of teens — like Malia Obama— are making the most of the year after high school to fulfill specific goals. “Gap Year Basics: How Taking a Year Off Increases the Ceiling for Students,” by Counseling@NYU — the online master’s in school counseling program from NYU Steinhardt — examines gap year dynamics and what this choice means for today’s generation of students. If your teen is asking for a gap year before taking the college plunge, here are some reasons why you might want to say yes.
The benefits of taking a gap year
There are a variety of positives embedded in the gap year — like helping teens figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. According to Ethan Knight, executive director of the American Gap Association (AGA), all the benefits of a gap year stem from students learning more about themselves: “They confront limits they didn’t know they had, succeed more frequently than they would have thought before, and are exposed to new and different ways to lead this thing called life,” he said.
In addition to the positive results of its own 2015 National Alumni Survey, the AGA highlights data across a variety of studies that illustrate gap year benefits:
- Gap year students report a better sense of self, increased multicultural understanding, and the acquisition of skills and knowledge “that contributed to career or academic major."
- Gap year students are perceived to be “more mature, more self-reliant, and independent.”
- For most students, gap experiences confirm or redirect academic and career choices.
- 88 percent of gap year graduates say the experience “significantly added to their employability.”
- Gap year students “overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs.”
Tapping into gap year resources
When it comes to finding out more about whether a gap year is the right choice for your high school graduate, the school counselor is one of the best places to start. This professional has the benefit of both knowing your child and being able to tap into various gap year resources that will be a big help.
In addition, there are many gap year organizations that help parents and their teens plan a successful gap year. The AGA offers an accrediting process for such organizations and offers a list of them and other resources on its site — including information about college deferral policies and obtaining financial aid.
Dealing with gap year worries
While there are many benefits to the gap year concept, many parents still worry about whether it’s a good idea. One concern is that the delay will make some students less committed to attending college, but the opposite seems to be true. According to studies by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, taking a gap year helps students be more enthusiastic and prepared for college. In fact, 90 percent of gap year students returned to school within a year. However, to avoid the potential for extended delay, Haigler highlights the value of being accepted into college first — and taking a deferment for admission later.
In addition to learning about gap year benefits, parents should emphasize a critical ingredient: structure. As former high school counselor Kim Oppelt notes, “A gap year should not be looked at as a vacation after high school or as a way to let loose before attending college.” That’s why it’s important to find programs that feature some combination of cross-cultural experience, language learning, real-life work, and volunteerism.
Bottom line? If your teen asks to be a Gapper — it may actually be a great idea.
Writer Tagline: Colleen O'Day is a digital PR manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.'s social work, mental health and K-12 education programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.