Gap Years and College Readiness

Anyone who has had any conversation with us or attended one of our presentations knows how seriously we take the topic of college readiness. In fact right at the top of our home page is our mission statement, which is to help students increase college success by planning transformative Gap Years based on life skills and real world learning. We pursue this purpose passionately, and are proud of the growth our students show during their Gap time.

We mention this because we recently came across an excellent podcast episode called “Should My Kid Take a Gap Year?”. This is part of the Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting podcast, hosted by Dr. Lisa Damour. This particular episode really hit home, because it zeroed right in on the question of college readiness. In particular, “what if I think my teen is not ready for college – could a Gap Year make sense?”

We encourage you to give the full episode a listen (it’s less than 30 minutes). In the meantime, here are some key points made by Dr. Lisa:

Basic advice for families about college readiness

  • “It makes no sense in the world that everyone is magically ready for college when they’re 18. It just doesn’t work like that.”
  • “The college is going nowhere. You only get 4 years there. Why don’t you spend your time there when you can really make the most of it.”

Parents need to trust their instincts

  • If parents are even thinking that their student might not be ready for college, the fact that it’s even on their mind is itself telling and they should take it seriously
  • “If you have questions about whether your kid’s maturity is what it needs to be in order for college to be a good, safe and fiscally sound idea for them – consider a gap year.”
  • “Sending a kid [to college] who is not ready – the ramifications are far more vast than any family can appreciate until it happens.”

Benefits of a Gap Year

  • “Gap Years can be wildly maturing for kids. They can really help kids grow in quite compelling ways. They’re kind of like dog years – kids can get seven years of development in one year.”
  • Dr. Lisa has vivid memories when she was in her first year at college of running into kids who took Gap Years and thinking they carried themselves like adults. They seemed so much older, because they had lived in the world

A Gap Year creates a low-stakes scenario

  • Kids can leave home and practice independence – it’s almost like a trial run without the potential downside of the kid blowing it and having to leave college right away.

What to do during a Gap Year

  • Not all students need to leave home for a Gap Year. Especially if the issue is really one of a student partying too hard and not studying enough in high school. Maybe they need to take a year, with clear boundaries, to grow up at home.
  • Some students have really enterprising things going on, and want to keep doing this before college.
  • Other options include programs, jobs, volunteering as part of religious community around the world or in your own community.
  • Couch surfing is not an option – “Should be absolutely understood that year of not going to college is not a year of potato chips and Fortnite”

Gap Years and college application process

  • Kids should apply to colleges in senior year of high school, since they can take full advantage of their school’s resources – “there’s a college counselor who knows you right now, and teachers who are teaching you right now”
  • Students don’t have to decide on a Gap Year until after admitted to college

Applying to college during a Gap Year

  • Students can re-apply to college during their Gap Year if they don’t end up with options for college they like. High schools will help kids even after they graduate.
  • “Maybe that’s a kid who can who show they did something important, or interesting, or they grew up a whole lot, may be able to apply to places and get in that they couldn’t have gotten in based on what they did in high school.”

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