There are many reasons why parents worry about sending their graduating seniors on gap year before college, but recent studies show that most of these worries are actually entirely unfounded.
Here are the most common gap year worries harbored by parents—and some data to help puts those fears to rest.
1. Gap years can be expensive, how would we afford one?
While it's true that some gap year programs are costly, this would be similar to rejecting the idea of college completely due to the “sticker-shock” of certain private universities. Many people who choose to take a gap year don't go on structured programs, and those who do can be eligible for scholarships and payment plans, just like in college. A 2016 survey by the Gap Year Association shows that, “In 2016, Gap Year Association Members and Provisional Members gave away a combined total of more than $4,200,000 in scholarships and needs-based grants.”
Gap programs aren’t the only ones providing funding either; many universities now realize the power of gap years. In 2011, the University of North Carolina received $1.5 million to help students finance gap years. In addition to scholarship opportunities, many gappers add a work component to their gap year plans to help pay for travel. Working during a gap year teaches responsibility, budgeting, and it helps develop a work ethic before entering college.
2. Isn’t a gap year a waste of time and money?
Besides the tremendous personal growth students undergo during a gap year, the year can also be viewed as an investment in their academic and professional futures. According to graduate recruitment gap year survey studies by Milkround, “88 percent of gap year graduates report that their gap year had significantly added to their employability.” When applying for internships and entering the job market, gappers résumés will stand out, and so will their soft skills. The soft skills, like conflict resolution, time management, and perseverance are life-long and will stay with them throughout adulthood.
There's not one “perfect” gap year path, so it’s always a good idea to do research and develop a realistic budget with your child. A gap year doesn’t have to be expensive to be life-changing. The most important part of a gap year is personal growth, not cost.
3. What if my child doesn’t attend college after their gap experience?
The common path to take when planning a gap year is to apply to a college, get accepted, and then defer for a semester or year. Doing this alleviates the stress of having to worry about the application process during the gap. Applying to college during a gap is possible too! Just make sure your child asks for their recommendations early, while their accomplishments are still top of mind for their teachers and counselors.
There's this common misconception that students who take a gap year end up living in a straw hut on a beach in some foreign land, having given up on education altogether. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Karl Haigler, co-author of the book The Gap Year Advantage (2005) states, “Nine out of 10 students returned to college within a year, and 60 percent reported the time off had either inspired or confirmed their choice of career or academic major.”
After having a year to discover what their passions and hone their skills, it makes sense that gappers are more engaged in the classroom. Aliza Goldberg, who spent her gap year in Vietnam before studying at Barnard College, stated in a 2010 Education Week article, “A year ago, I thought I would double-major in archaeology and art history with a minor in Italian...Now, I am utterly confused. I want to major in everything. The majority of my schedule was influenced by my gap year. I’m excited to see how they all meld together when I declare my major at the end of next year.” A gap year gives academic motivation to those who feel burnout from high school while at the same time helping them enter college with a wealth of real world experiences.
4. Won’t my child fall behind academically?
Student who take gap years often thrive once they get back to an academic setting, and colleges are noticing this trend. “Several studies show that students who take a gap year end up doing better than their non-gap year classmates. At Middlebury College in Vermont, for example, this was true even when controlling for the academic credentials that gap year students brought with them from their high schools,” said Robert Clagett, Former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College. Clagett also adds, “The positive effect lasts over all four years.”
Students return to the classroom reenergized and eager to learn. This can probably be attributed to the experiential learning that defines many gap experiences. Gappers are also more likely to engage in leadership positions on campus and contribute to the overall community. Your child won’t fall behind academically from a gap year. The data suggests they might be one of the most successful students on campus.
5. My child’s friends will all be starting college together, won’t there be significant FOMO?
Students who take gap years often experience a little FOMO when their friends depart for school and post their first photos, but it doesn't last. It's hard to think you're missing out when you're traveling the world and making new friends. Adjusting to college can be hard, just like taking the path less traveled can be too. Reminding your child that social media is a highlight reel can help them remember that everyone is experiencing the highs and lows of their chosen path.
Grant Stievater, who spent a semester of his gap year in Cuba and now attends Fairfield University, also downplays this concern. He says, “I have described my gap year to many different people and most of them had never heard of a gap year. Once I describe how I spent my time, the comments are almost uniformly ‘I could have definitely benefited from a gap year,’ or ‘I had no idea that was even an option, I’m a little jealous.’ I haven’t been asked the question, ‘Don’t you regret not going college at the same time as your friends?’” It might be a struggle to view the “big-picture” at first, but in the long-run the benefits a gap year far outweigh the costs.
Helen, seasoned traveler and EF Gap Year alum, offers her advice on how to live in the moment while traveling abroad—advice that she practiced personally…