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 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 are for the rich, how could we ever afford one?
While it is 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 do not go on structured programs, and those who do can be eligible for financial aid. 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 giving money 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 years to help pay for their 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 someone undergoes during a gap year, the year can actually be viewed as an investment into someone’s future in the workforce. 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, those who have taken a gap year will not just stand out in a stack of resumes. Gappers will also benefit from the valuable “soft skills” they learned during their gap year experience. Skills such as conflict resolution, time management, and perseverance are life-long and will stay with someone throughout adulthood. There is not one “perfect” gap year, 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 having the courage to step off the traditional path, not how much it costs!
3) What if my child doesn’t attend college after the Gap Year?
The common path to take when planning a gap year is to apply to a college, get accepted, and then defer for a year. Doing this alleviates the stress of having to worry about getting into college and the application process during the gap year. There is a common misconception that someone who takes a gap year ends up living in a straw hut on a beach in some foreign land, having given up on education altogether. However, 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 they are truly passionate, 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” after high school while at the same time allowing someone to 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 have started to notice 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 years. Gappers are also more likely to engage in leadership positions on campus and contribute to the overall community. Don’t worry, your child won’t fall behind academically from a gap year. All facts prove they will actually be some of the most successful students on campus.
5) My child’s friends will all be starting college together, won’t there be significant FOMO?
Someone who takes a gap year won’t be behind their friends, or even at the same starting point. A gapper will begin college way ahead of the pack with a wealth of “real world” knowledge and soft skills that are not taught in any academic setting. Like many fears, the “fear of missing out” is self-inflicted. That being said, it's understandable that someone who watches social media posts of their friends heading to their first frat parties or tailgates might be slightly jealous. However, remember that your child is still going to college! Furthermore, people usually only post the highlights of their lives on social media, and tend to leave out the not so pleasant parts. The irony is your child’s friends will probably end up being more jealous watching your child’s snapchat stories when they are a senior in college and their friends are stuck grinding 50 hours a week at their first job! 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.
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