A gap year is not a break from reality; it's an amazing gift, so ask and plan properly.
There’s a new trend for teens making its way around the internet, faster than the “shocking” news that Justin Bieber chopped off his dreadlocks. Thankfully it's more important than the Biebs. It's called a Gap Year. A Gap Year is when teens take a “break” (for whatever reason) between entering college or graduating college to enter the real world.
Recently, Malia Obama (the last teen role model on the planet) became the poster child for the Gap Year movement, but not all of us have a life like a First Daughter. Needless to say, the majority of kids pitching the Gap Year plan to their parents as a valid alternative will have more of an upward climb. So, before you think about telling mom and dad that surfing the Baja beaches for a year will be a productive “break” from your education, check out my top three quick and dirty tips to get the most out of your gap year:
Tip #1: Think of a Gap Year as a Business Plan
A recent New York Times article about Malia (who has already been accepted to Harvard) outlined how she will be taking the year off to spend time working for her father, during the tail end of his political run. Sorry to disappoint you, but understand that this is not the norm. See, unless you have a Malia-esqu plan lined up come the fall, I suggest you properly map out your Gap Year plan right now. And I use the word plan and not “idea” or “break” because in order to pitch your Gap Year agenda, you have to make sure it has an end and goal in sight. Waiting tables in Cabo to “find yourself” is not a plan.
Malia had two amazing things going for her; she was already accepted to a school, and she has pretty much the coolest “first job” of all time. Telling your parents that you’re taking a year off to persue your dream of Lego sculpturing won’t exactly go over as well as her plan did. Now granted Malia could take off thirty years and still enter Harvard with the crimson carpet rolled out for her, but the point here is that if you are going to take a year hiatus from college you better bring a plan to the table with some serious legs on it. However, assuming no one else has the same gig lined up as Malia, you have to present your Gap Year plan like a business plan.
For starters, do not pick something that looks like you’re using it as an excuse to dodge college. Your parents have spent your entire life and their entire career, planning for your college. With that, if you do plan to be surfing every day on some island, you might want to tell them you’ll also be working with kids at a school. Don’t start with, “So, you know I love to surf, right?...” Also, when you talk to your parents, present to them a time table with a start and end. Showing them you properly understand that it’s a gap and not a hole, will let them know you understand it’s only temporary. When they can see the end in sight, they will be more apt to give the greenlight … and the credit card. (And I realize some of you may be planning to work your way through a gap year, or have even saved up money and are going to pay for one on your own—that's fantastic, and I applaud you!)
Tip #2: Do a Proper Cost Comparison
Going back to Malia’s situation, which is rare, her plan costs a lot less than a year at college. Yes, the Obamas (kids included) will likely never have to worry about money for the rest of their lives (and every single generation for a thousand years after), but being rich isn’t the main issue here. Malia will be paid to work, and will gain her a world of exposure and experience. That’s a lot less than a year at Harvard, which costs about the same as a new Mercedes. However, many kids who dig the idea of a Gap Year improperly view it as a way to see the world and discover themselves on their parent’s dime. Coasting around on your parents' American Express is not a proper Gap Year plan. You never want to start with, “Well, you were going to spend that money on school anyway so…”