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Is a 'gap' year a good idea?

graduate standing with arms outstretched as if questioning

According to The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), approximately 25 percent of high school seniors take a year off between graduating high school and starting college. However, only about 10 percent did so intentionally. The remaining 15 percent reported taking a gap year to “find themselves.” While parents may be less keen about the idea of a gap year, experts say it can help young adults develop the skills and knowledge essential to succeed as an adult.

Taking time to work, travel, volunteer and experience the world can be a powerful learning process for a high school grad. In fact, a gap year may actually help your family save time and money by allowing your teen to deeply consider their future. In fact, research has shown that those who take a year off tend to achieve better grades when they do go back to school.

If you have a teen considering taking a gap year, here are a few tips to help:

1. Make it a thoughtful choice. Ask your child to articulate why they want to take a gap year. This requires them to really think through their goals, future path as well as how they will support themselves during their “off” year.

2. Discuss the benefits and disadvantages. While taking time off to establish a clear vision of their future is important, there are some negatives that your child needs to consider. Have them address the fact that they’ll be a full year behind their peers and how they plan to fund their living expenses while not in school.

3. Make a gap year plan. Once the decision is made, have your child put in writing what they want to accomplish during their year off—such as travel, volunteer or work experience. Revisit this plan regularly throughout the year.

4. Make contributing to your household part of the deal. Discuss the need to contribute to the household while they are out of school. This could mean getting a job to pay rent or contributing to other household expenses.

5. Have a Plan B. An important life lesson for your teen: Things change! Consider having them draft an alternative plan in case their original travel or work plans fall through. This will help them prepare for any unforeseen plan shifts.

Taking a gap year can offer many helpful life experiences for your teen. There can also be drawbacks if your child does not properly prepare. Whatever the plan, be prepared with a few of our helpful tips above.

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