My student didn’t take a Gap Year!

By Katherine Stievater, Founder, Gap Year Solutions

As a Gap Year advisor, I firmly believe every teen can benefit from a Gap Year – including my own four boys. My second son, now a senior in college, took a Gap Year. He will tell you that it is “the gift that keeps on giving”. He was truly transformed by his experiences during his Gap time.

My third son just started college, after deciding not to take a Gap Year. Was I disappointed that he chose not to take a Gap Year? A little bit (okay a lot!) I really do think every student can benefit from a year to step off the traditional academic track, avoid the expectations of others, and soak up some real world learning. At the end of the day, he exemplifies what I hope for all students: full awareness of the Gap Year option and its benefits, and then a thoughtful CHOICE about whether or not to defer the start of college.

Most graduating high school seniors in the U.S. do not defer the start of college. Statistics compiled recently by Gap Year Solutions for the college Class of 2024 put average first years deferring matriculation at 6-7%, based on targeted first year class sizes. This is up substantially from prior years, and we don’t know where it will settle post-COVID. The numbers do tell us, though, that 93-94% of these students elected NOT to defer the start of college.

My son falls into this group. He has seen his older brother grow and thrive after his Gap Year. He has watched me work with our students, and has learned about the wide range of amazing activities for students during their Gap time. He understands the reasons why a Gap Year makes sense – a chance for students to recharge, increase maturity, discover new interests, become globally aware, and ensure they walk onto campus energized and ready to engage and learn. And yet…he still decided not to lean into this transformational opportunity. Why not?

The main reason he decided not to wait is that he felt he hadn’t been in a strong academic setting for the last 1 ½ years during COVID. He didn’t want this to turn into 2 ½ years with a Gap Year. As opposed to “staying on” the traditional academic path, he wanted to “get back on it”. He also had some of that dreaded FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – that some teens have a hard time overcoming.

Make no mistake, I certainly checked, double checked and triple checked that this was really what he wanted to do! And all along the way, he reassured me that yes, in fact, he was sure he didn’t want to take a Gap Year. While checking in, I made sure to let my son know that it was his choice, and I would respect his choice no matter what he decided.

I can not emphasize strongly enough how important it is for students to have agency in the Gap Year decision. This should be the student’s choice, and – while providing information and perspectives to their teens – parents should listen to their son or daughter and see what feels right for them. (This applies even if the mom is a Gap Year advisor.) Ultimately, I wanted my son to take charge of this next chapter of his life. And guess what? There’s still time for a Gap Year during college – there doesn’t have to be a straight path to college, and there certainly isn’t in life!

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