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5 Reasons to Support a Gap Year

Heading straight to college is not always the best route for every high school graduate. Mighty Mommy explains why, and offers 5 reasons why a Gap Year might make more sense for your teen.

By
Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #310

January can be a very exciting time for high school seniors, as they enter the home stretch of their school career and look ahead to college. And for those who have applied early admission (like my son who is a senior this year), they are just now finding out if they’ve been accepted to their top choices.

My son applied to 7 colleges for early acceptance, and was thrilled to learn he’s been accepted to 5 so far. He’s riding an emotional high at the moment because several have offered near-full scholarships, too.

This isn’t always the case for families, however - and I can speak from personal experience, because our oldest child didn’t even know if she wanted to attend college when she was at this same stage in her senior year. Although she was always an excellent student, she didn’t have the focus and desire to hone in on what she wanted to do for the upcoming weekend, nevermind the next four years of her life!

Because she was our first child to go through the graduation and college process, and didn’t have any experience to draw upon, we felt ill-equipped to help guide her. Luckily, she had a guidance counselor who was able to relate to her and didn’t push her into the “one size fits all” graduation scenario. After meeting with her numerous times in her senior year, he strongly suggested she take a Gap Year after high school rather than applying to college right away.

A Gap Year is a break from formal education - typically taken after high school or before starting graduate school - which the student uses to travel or work. This was all new to us several years ago, but what we’ve learned in the process has been extremely helpful for both our daughter who took a Gap Year, and for us in helping our other kids decide what was best for them as they navigated their senior years.

If your high school student is up in the air about what route to take after graduation, here are 5 reasons a Gap Year might be a good choice.>

Reason #1: It's a Chance to Get to Know Yourself

My daughter has always been an introvert. She’s completely comfortable with her immediate family and very best friends, but it takes her a while to warm up to people she doesn’t know well. When she was a junior in high school, she already had a feeling that heading off to college might not be the best choice for her, because she didn’t feel emotionally and socially ready.

Some may not feel that’s a strong enough reason to delay college by a year, but my daughter also has a late summer birthday, making her one of the youngest in her graduating class. Though she was the oldest of 8 siblings, she truthfully wasn’t as mature and socially ready as many of her classmates. Knowing this, we sat down and set some written goals at the beginning of her Gap Year, so we would have some measurable tools to work with.

One of these goals was for her to spend time getting to know herself—basically, understanding what her strengths and weaknesses were, and how to make those work for her in a more independent setting, such as college.

She will be the first to admit that it was very difficult to stay behind when her best friends left home to attend colleges out of state; she hoped she had made the right decision, but there was still that annoying inner voice that kept her second guessing herself for the first few weeks. She spent the first month reading and journaling, though, and soon after, she became much more comfortable with her decision - and then started exploring potential career paths that she would be interested in pursuing.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.