Stepping Off the College-to-Career Treadmill for a Gap Year

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Today’s the day. Acceptance letters are in, deposits are paid, and audible sighs of relief can be heard from parents across the country. Woohoo!

Another year of graduating seniors are headed to college. If you’re a parent of one of these aforementioned teens the relief is real. I’ve known the joy and accompanying melancholy of it myself.

I’ve also known the other side of this coin, with a son who wasn’t ready to keep pace on the college-to-career treadmill. He, like many others, needed a gap year.

Gap years can prove to be life-changing opportunities of growth and opportunity, whether considered because of placement on a college wait list or just time off needed before launching a career. Their real value is the ability to press pause.

So what actually is a gap year? For starters, it’s not a frivolous vacation. It is strategic time for your teen to fine-tune his or her personal path. In his recent New York Times article, Kyle DeNuccio referred to his year off as “an opportunity to discover a sense of purpose outside of school.” A year on your own terms can do that for you. Whether traveling, volunteering, interning, learning a new language, or testing a possible career direction, gap years provide strategic time for teens to step out of their comfort zone to explore and uncover new things. The outcome of newfound skills, clarity, independence, and an appreciation for how others live can be transformational.

My son, teaching English in Vietnam during his gap year

Art and design majors have the benefit of being creative problem solvers by their very nature. A year off the treadmill will only enhance that skill set. The time away also proves that they’re not risk-adverse. Coincidentally, both those attributes are highly coveted by employers.

Traditionally gap years occur between sophomore and junior years at college – when I needed mine. But, they can be taken anytime. My son took his after college; he was fortunate to have a job waiting for him when he returned. We each paid our own way, benefitted immensely from the experience, and were clearly focused when we stepped back on the track.

Want to learn more? Kyle’s article is a great place to start understanding the realities of stepping off for a year. Only you and your teen will know if it’s the right thing to do.

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