Gap years have become a hot topic of conversation. Many parents are reluctant to pay private school prices of $70,000-80,000 per year or even public university fees of $25,000-$50,000 a year to have their child upstairs in the bedroom on a screen all day long. COVID-19 has impacted so much, but for many families it has really refocused the conversation about the value of college.
The pathway to college from high school can be too straight and narrow for some. There are students who secretly wonder if they are ready to handle the independence or the pressure. Some are burned out on studying and just want to get off the treadmill. Parents may find themselves second-guessing whether their hard-earned money will be well spent because they don't see their children taking academics seriously.
The gap year experience is becoming more popular in the United States. It's already a widely accepted rite of passage in Europe. A gap year will help students gain confidence and real-world experience and also provide a major departure from their structured lives. It could be a totally structured program such as LeapNow's programs in India or South America that offer college credit, or a self-designed program with community service, internships, travel or an opportunity to follow a passion,
If you think your student is a candidate for stepping off the beaten path to college, here are some things to consider.
- Apply to colleges in the fall of senior year anyway, because no one is exactly sure how they'll feel in the spring of their senior year. It's important to keep all options open.
- Have a plan. Do the research and check out websites such as gapyear.com, cityyear.org, whereyouheaded.com and interimprograms.com
- Maintain open communication between parents and children. Encourage your students to share their hopes, dreams and frustrations. What parts of their high school experience have been the most and the least fulfilling? Why are they interested in a gap year?
- Families often ask what colleges think about students taking time off. "The students that I see doing gap years are almost always doing something incredibly interesting," said Parke Muth, former senior assistant dean at the University of Virginia. "Most do some sort of travel, many do service, and not an insignificant number are doing internships. All of these opportunities make the student more worldly and usually a bit 'hungrier' and grateful for the education that awaits them here."
- Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.