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Gap Year before College

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Gap Year before College


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2010 - 2013 Recommendations


Gap Year: Politics, Diplomacy, Public Service

Oct 2013

We are searching for gap year options for our son, who is completing his senior year of high school and presently applying to a number of colleges with a special focus on political science, current events, and pre-law. He hopes one day to go into some aspect of public service, or to be very involved in policy-making or analysis. He has asked me to explore gap year options on his behalf (since he just can't add one more thing to his to-do list) and I think a gap year might be a great way to go. Does anyone know of any gap year opportunities that might fit the bill? Any internships in Washington DC? Perhaps something involving the media? Working with an elected official? A think-tank? He is open to travel and for what it's worth speaks French and Hebrew as well as English. He is a smart, reliable, very hard-working, thoughtful young man who would be a great asset to the team. He's had experience in his field and received glowing recommendations. I've looked on line but haven't found anything that fit the bill, so I thought I'd ask. He's probably heading to Tufts for college. Thank you so much for your ideas and suggestions. Mom of future policy wonk


Gap years are great - my daughter is currently doing one, and we couldn't be happier about the experience she is having (she's in China).

An industry has grown up around these programs. The program my daughter is doing is not aimed at the gap year market and we found it on our own, but we did attend a gap year program fair with representatives from many programs. See http://www.usagapyearfairs.org/ They typically are held in the early part of the year - so January or February.

Suggest you also check out the Center for Interim Programs http://www.interimprograms.com/ They offer a free 90 minute counseling session, and you can see if they have something to offer your son. optimom


Looking for a Year Long Overseas Volunteer Program for my 18 year old

Nov 2012

Our daughter is graduating from El Cerrito High School this June and we are looking for a year abroad volunteer program for her. We want something that is not academically linked. Our daughter has worked as a camp counselor for disabled children and adults and is currently volunteering in a nursing home. We think she would find depth and personal maturity by volunteering abroad for 6 months to a year. Does anyone know of a good program for post high school age kids? Rebecca


Sounds like what you are looking for is a gap year program for your daughter, of which there are a zillion options. Look on the internet for ''gap year programs'' and/or ''gap year volunteer.''

You could also attend the gap year fair being held locally in February, where representatives of MANY programs will be present. See more info about this http://www.usagapyearfairs.org/ (tips: It is a very dense event - we've been advised that it is a multi-person job to take it all in, so parents and child should be prepared to fan out to investigate and then come together to compare notes. And if you can get to the San Anselmo site, I'm told it's easier to navigate than the SF one, because the room in which it is held is more spacious.)

And if it all seems too overwhelming there are also gap year counselors who will identify, review and vet programs for you - at a significant cost. One who came highly recommended is Maureen Lavin from Taking Off (www.takingoff.net). We haven't yet decided to go that route, so haven't investigated to see if there are more economical options. optimoms


Legal Responsibilities of divorced parents for Gap Year

July 2012

I have been raising my daughter, full-time, as a single mother, with some financial support from her father. After gruelling negotiations and compromises, I was able to get my ex-husband to update our separation agreement to include paying for half her college costs, once our daughter graduates high school. (Whether he will actually honor this pledge remains to be seen.) Daughter has applied, been accepted and deferred enrolling, in a college of her choice. In the interim, she wishes to take a ''Gap Year'' to go on two programs that involve travel and volunteering. (This has long been a dream of hers.) Both programs together cost around what a college year would cost, however, her father is refusing to share in the costs or provide support for her during the Gap Year. (Even though he is fully in favor of her taking the year off, and was the one to originally encourage it.) Now that she is 18 and out of high school, it appears he may have the legal right to refuse to support his daughter, even though she is far from being independent. Any advice or referrals for legal counseling would be greatly appreciated. Resources are few, but the desire to do right by my daughter is very strong. Undone by Gap Year


Mediation may be more productive in this situation than legal advice. Ilene
Dear divorced mom,
I am a divorced mom too, and my son's Dad is intentionally underemployed. He refuses to work full-time, because he sees himself as an artist -- though he doesn't sell any of his art -- so he works part-time and I have had to pay him a great deal of support, court-ordered. I am saying all this to show that I can sympathize with your situation. I don't know the answer to your questions about legal means of making your daughter's dad help with support for your daughter. But the underlying issue, the more important one, is the emotional content of his relationship with his daughter. When we stress the legal responsibility a divorced parent has, we are also unintentionally bringing up the relationship between the divorced parents rather than between the parent and the child. He may be resisting paying for the Gap Year for a couple of reasons: he, more than you, thinks that a young person needs to start taking responsibility for his or her life at eighteen. Parents often disagree on this issue, divorced or not. And if legal pressure is mentioned or brought to bear, it becomes a part of the divorce scenario (what my daughter's mom is trying to impose on me) rather than an outgrowth of his relationship with his daughter. I think that first of all it will be most productive if this conversation can take place between the daughter and the father rather than between the divorced parents. And I do not think it unreasonable that your daughter offer her father a sign that she wants to help take responsibility for this gap year, meeting her parents half-way (or as much as she can). If she goes to her Dad and reminds him that this was his suggestion, that she really wants to do it, that she is willing to help work to support it, perhaps he will listen and be prepared to work with her. He can also give her his reasons as to why he is not willing or able to pay for this. But she is the one he is beholden to, so he should address his daughter directly, I think.

Good luck to you; I hope your daughter's father will see that she needs him to remain as a support in her life, and that their relationship could suffer if he plays out the divorce conflict rather than taking on his role as a father. divorced mom


I believe that legally there is no obligation for your ex to support an 18 year old child - excuse me, adult - unless you've agreed to it in writing. Everyone wants to have fun traveling and volunteering. But your daughter would learn some valuable lessons working at a crappy job and paying for part of her own living. Honestly, Bay Area parents spoil the living crap out of their kids in my own humble opinion. How about this; she can work here for 6 months and travel for 6 in a cheap place like southeast Asia? SE Asia and many other parts of the world are far safer than the US, far cheaper, as well as exotic and fabulous. She can volunteer in an orphanage in India, Nepal or Thailand. And the best part; it would actually be SHE who is volunteering, rather than her parents donating the funds that allow her to ''volunteer'' which really means the parents are doing most of the volunteering. Sean

Gap Year Curveball

April 2012

Our daughter is graduating in a few weeks. Like most seniors, she has spent the better part of a year applying to college. Together, we have made two visits to about fifteen campuses on the East Coast and visited three school in Oregon. Some months ago, she quietly said she was interested in a gap year. I said at the time that she was welcome to do some research and come up with a proposal and that we would consider it. When nothing showed up, I forged ahead with the visits and the expectation that she would go to college in the fall. Our daughter has applied to twelve schools and gotten into seven. She isn't in love with any of them. But then again - as her fabulous college advisor pointed out and as I know from my own experience with her this year - she hasn't ''owned'' any of these choices. She's not excited about any of them, didn't do any independent research, and hasn't written down the pros and cons of any school. She hasn't talked with her friends about her options and is embarrassed and confused about the rejections. With the deadline coming up to commit, we finally made a date yesterday to go to breakfast and discuss this. I was already to hear which of her top two schools she had chosen. Instead she informed me that ''she had decided on a gap year.'' WHAT!!?? May 1st is still around the corner.

So suddenly here I am with a kid without a plan. She said she is burnt out from high school, needs a break, wants to work in her chosen field for a time. I was so taken aback I don't think I really heard the rest and didn't have time to compose myself for a thoughtful conversation about next steps. So I'd like to ask for some help in organizing my thoughts here. I am a big planner, I have had a vision of my daughter in college this coming fall for a long time now, and now I need to make a huge course correction with a new plan OR try to force her to attend a school she doesn't love and doesn't seem ready for. OMG! Since I went to the wrong college, I have empathy here and I would like to see her take time off, if that is the way it goes, to work hard to identify a school she loves and then do the work to make it happen. But I find myself so nervous that she is saying ''no'' to a known option and is heading into a year without a job, without structure, without a plan. As a student, she is a mixed bag - really strong in humanities, just very weak in math. I don't experience her as studious or focused on her academics, and was thrilled when she got into a very prestitigous school back East (which she said at one point she didn't think she could handle academically) I insist that she look into accepting and then defering at one of her two choices (needn't be the tough one; the other lesser-known school has a fabulous department in her field of interest), and her college advisor knows this. I really need help shifting gears, honoring her need to make a change, and figuring out how to see this as a productive use of her time. I am an upset mess today and would appreciate help in sorting this out so we can go from here and I can continue to be a positive, supportive parent of my young adult's life choices. Just when you think you have it figured out...


I have kids in the range - high school and college or heading to college - and sympathize with you and your family! It sounds like your regrouping is positive and healthy. A niece of mine went off to college two years ago not wanting to go but feeling like she should -same situation, wasn't thrilled about her college, not sure exactly what she wanted to do, etc. Now, two years of lame performance and dropping self esteem, she is taking that gap year and is thriving! I highly recommend supporting your student in learning to honor her internal knowing while still keeping options open. Would she be willing to 'accept with deferred enrollment one of the schools?' That would keep the door open for a year, without having to re-apply. My ex husband offered me wise advice once when I was worried: we trusted our kids to learn to walk and learn to love what they love, we can trust them to learn to navigate life...our job is to keep healthy guidance, backing off more and more as they grow older. (my kids were 5 and 10 at the time, but now are 15 and 20...it was good advice) I send best best wishes to you all! kate
I don't have a comprehensive suggestion about how to deal with your ''curveball,'' but have a couple of thoughts based on, among other things, the fact that I went to the ''wrong'' college (no long term negative effects, though) and took a gap year between college and grad school. First: if she goes to college she can always transfer if she hates it. Second: if she goes with the gap year, it can be an enlightening time if she is not allowed to spend it on the couch. Set ground rules about working, contributing to the household, etc. My gap year, albeit before grad school, was an eye-opener as I tried to live on fairly low wages. It was a great motivator. Third: I would strongly suggest that she accept at a school she could live with and defer if she takes the year off. I didn't do that partly because I was disappointed with my grad school acceptances and found myself wait-listed the second time around when I reapplied (and didn't get into a ''better'' school). Good luck!
If your daughter has studied Spanish and is interested in community development work in Latin America, Amigos de las Americas has a relatively new Gap Year program in Nicaragua. AMIGOS has a 40+ year history of youth community service and leadership training work in Latin America. My daughter, now a law student at Berkeley, was an AMIGOS volunteer on three separate occasions. That network is still a big part of her life. www.amigoslink.org Good for your daughter! Good luck to her. EastBay Amigos mom
Not to be rude, but whose life is this---hers or yours? Let go a little. You've done your job. Now it's her turn. Let HER learn to figure things out. I sympathize because I have a senior in high school son who is actually in a way worse off situation than your daughter but I firmly believe it is ultimately HIS life. anonymous
It's great that you can so clearly outline your problem in accepting the curveball, but I would think you really do need to separate your problem (you like the big plan, you envisioned your daughter in college this fall, it's hard to shift gears at this late point) from your daughter's.

Your daughter is finally able to articulate her problem and has come up with a solution for it--a gap year. This is very brave on her part and you also have from your own experience seen how detrimental it can be to go to the wrong college. So you should try to appreciate the strength it took for your daughter to make this choice and help her implement it without falling back into your style of wanting to create a big plan.

It does seem wise for her to pick one of the top two choices and ask to be deferred. At first glance that school appears to be the school that has a fabulous department in her area of interest. Something she can look forward to. So if she gets deferred, she is not heading off into no-man's land--she has a plan. So that is quite important.

Given your daughter's inability to ''own any of her choices,'' it seems like this is the time for you to pull back and let your daughter spend time articulating her choices and coming up with a plan of how she wants to spend her gap year. Tell her she will need to take the major role in trying to find work, etc. It may be tough (very hard to get jobs), but going through tough times does have a way of strengthening people and increasing their resolve to get a degree. So in the long run, it may be an excellent idea.

Vent with your friends, and try not to let it overflow to the way you interact with your daughter. In talking with your daughter try to see it from her point of view. Let her do the major work of implementing her plan, but offer to help occasionally. Even if the year does not fulfill the promise of what she wanted it to be, this could be a real ''growing'' experience and help her be ready to ''own'' subsequent choices. Anonymous


I would recommend Susan Martin, an educational consultant who specializes in working with families and students exploring gap years. She can help your daughter (and you) determine if a gap year is a good choice, and, if so, guide you through the process of putting together a meaningful gap year, one that will help your daughter hit the ground running when she starts college the following year. http://seizetheyear.net/about.html

I admire that you are trying to respect your daughter's ideas when you have been thrown quite a curve ball. After talking with Susan about gap years, however, I now see the beauty in deferring college for a year. My sense is that you will catch this curve ball just fine. Parenting is Full of Curve Balls


You said yourself that she didn't ''own'' any of this, hadn't done any of the research, etc. It sounds like you ''own'' it and this will never work for your daughter. She's 18 or very close to it and entitled to make her own decision about how she spends the next year (and every year after that). Of course, if you are funding her ''gap year,'' then you have the right to certain things too. Like, if she's living rent-free, that she be required to take math coursework at a community college, or that she have a paying job, or whatever. But you cannot force YOUR dreams for her on HER. It will backfire. She'll likely drop out of school and then resent you on top of that. Trust me, I know how disappointing it can be when your kids aren't following that path you had envisioned for them (still shocked that my kids aren't GATE-identified!). But your daughter sounds like she's not straying too far, not getting into trouble, etc. She needs to follow her dreams, not yours! anonymom
Take a deep breath. It will be fine. My son was in some ways like your daughter: smart but burned out on school, and not particularly excited about college or engaged in the application process. He applied early decision to a good east coast school, not based on any searching process or infatuation with the school, but as the path of least resistance. When he got in, we put down the deposit and he then deferred a year. He was pretty independent, very involved in an outside activity, and spent the year traveling the world, following his passion and growing up. When he started college the following year, he was ready to dive in. He is now finishing his sophomore year.

I think you are on the right track in encouraging your daughter to choose the best school for her among her options, and then putting down a deposit and asking for a deferral. Most schools are happy to allow deferral. If she doesn't go the following year, she loses the spot and deposit. So be it. The deposit is usually a few hundred dollars -- not insignificant, but also not a lot to secure her future, if she wants that. Consider it insurance. If she decides she wants to apply elsewhere next year, she can. But my bet is that, with the pressure off, time to breathe, and seeing her friends happy at their chosen colleges, she will warm to her choice and embrace it when the time comes. Mom of Big Guys


Curveball Parent - yes, you've been thrown a curveball. But it hasn't been for lack of trying. I admit I had to laugh, because you've been so involved. Most prospective students get little help from parents and counselors. There are even parents who won't complete the FAFSA and just throw their kids out the door. You would never do that, would you?

So what's the problem? You did what concerned parents do - way too much. You met deadlines. You showed her colleges. You got a counselor. I've been there (except for hiring a college counselor - my kids knew UC was where they wanted to go). Now your kid says ''I'm not ready''. And you should thank your lucky stars this is happening when you can put the brakes on the college fast-thru train and take a breath because if your child is not ready, she is *not* ready.

I know how the college crazies can consume an entire household. Tests, activities, tours, choices, financial planning. It's absolutely nuts. And then there's the ''gotta get into the best school possible'' insanity because of the fear that their life will be derailed.

But here's what's much worse - a child who is not ready going off to some distant college and totally screwing up, either academically or personally. Believe me, you don't want the middle-of-the-night hospital call or the administration letter of dismissal or the ''I can't take it anymore, I hate it here'' mid-semester agony. Yes, some colleges defer admission without penalty. Go ahead and do that to keep your options open. But consider this: Your daughter has been in the K-12 school grind continually for *thirteen* years and she may really be burned out.

Step back. Let her breathe. Let her be bored. Let her read whatever she wants. Let her sleep. Run your life in parallel. Make no demands for the summer. Suggest she talk to your local community college about a class - something that interests her like creative writing or music or art. Don't nag about a job or getting math fixed. Now is not the time. It is time to breathe.

And relax. It isn't who gets first to the starting line that matters, but who finishes the race well. Good Luck


Sounds familiar - no ownership of the process, etc. - except we didn't hear that our son wanted a gap year until two weeks before he was to head off to college! (he had accepted an offer and was able to defer). We are now reaching the end of a very worthwhile year. I'd love to share our experience with you; feel free to contact me directly. rk
Can we trade daughters? I really want my daughter to take a gap year (been trying not to make it clear how much I want her to do so in the hope that she won't feel pushed into it). So far she says she doesn't want to because she wants to start college at the same time as all her friends.

I taught at a private competitive college where most of the students came from families with the expectation that they would go to college. It was like the students had been on the academic treadmill. Once they got to college, they weren't motivated to learn, they were just there cause it was the next thing to do. And also I took a gap year and loved it.

So I would encourage you to get over your anti-gap year stance and start figuring out how to make it work for you and your daughter. I think a big question is about $. Will you contribute if you think she is doing some educational? Or would you like her to have the experience of supporting herself? Even if she lives at home she can contribute towards her housing/food, which is probably a really good idea if she is working, otherwise she will think she can have a comfortably lifestyle w/o a college degree! best wishes


One thing that jumped out to me from your post is that your daughter applied to schools on the East Coast and in Oregon. Perhaps the problem is not college, but that she doesn't feel ready to go to college so far away. Is it too late to try to get into somewhere closer and friendly such as Sonoma State or St. Mary's? For lower division it won't matter if the school is known for this or that major anyway. Good Luck
Wow. Just, wow. I dont know where to start re your daughter's gap year curveball. I dont know if you were so intent on your own agenda that you weren't listening to your daughter, or if she is a master of passive resistance (or possibly depressed). It's not that she doesn't have a plan, it's just that it's not YOUR plan. Your daughter is a young adult, and you really can't steamroller her into anything. She told you for months that she wanted a gap year to recover from highschool burnout and work in her chosen field-that IS a plan.

It's reasonable to ask your daughter to request a deferral (perhaps to the 'lesser-known school with a fabulous department in her field of interest''), and to accept the reality that she is going to have a gap year. This year can be used to support her in her decision making for next year and the future. Work TOGETHER to set up some house rules. She needs to step up a bit, you need to step back a bit. I did a gap year long before it was fashionable and my parents were completely horrified and unsupportive. They lost their ''my daughter's going to X college'' bragging rights. For me it was wonderful- it solidified my decision to enter a career that I still love 30 years later. And it made me realize how well meaning but oppressive my parents were. That year maked my first steps towards independence away from them. And i was miles ahead of the typical college freshman when I went back. So, with due respect, It's not about you


I completely understand your reaction but hopefully you're calmer now. As a college professor, I think that it's so much better for students to take off time so that they know why they're in college when they finally go. It's a huge investment of time and money and if she's not ready, better take off some time, even more than a year. Most kids move back home after a BA anyway, so why not take off time at the front end and figure out that she really doesn't want to flip burgers for the rest of her life. I'd give her a little time to come up with a plan but you should tell her that she needs some kind of structure, either where she's working and/or learning/studying something (not necessarily academic, e.g., art). Perhaps with a little more time and maturity, she'll have a better sense of what kind of institution she'd like. And perhaps she should visit a few places next year nad sit in on some classes. It will all work out!
You sound very thoughtful and concerned. It would be a shame for your daughter to make a decision because she is afraid or burnt out or depressed--this is a hard time for her and some apprehension is normal. You are trying to support any good plan she might come up with. On one hand she deserves credit for giving this some thought, yet doing nothing isn't an option.

First I would take a deep breath and allow her room to explore her options. She may find with the pressure off that she can begin to really think this through. You MUST accept her decision but she hasn't finished planning yet. If she decides not to attend school I think it is imperative that she move out and support herself. I wouldn't wring my hands and apologize to her about this, I would state is as a fact - Ok well if you aren't in school we'll help you with first and last month's rent but after that you will need to pay your way --- this isn't punitive it is the way things are.

She could always attend a local JC if she isn't ready to go away or ready to support herself. But the rule is if you are in school you get fianancial support and if you aren't in school you pay your way - unless you are enrolled in some other program - peace corps or volunteer work. I think if you lay out those real choices she will see more clearly what her options are.

Also, after all the effort put into applying I would ask her to hold a place somewhere as long as she can. If she objects to this, I would explain that it is for her to decide but that you insist on this one thing. You really can see further down the line than she can. You aren't making her do anything, you are just preserving her options for her for as long as possible.

I think she also should be reminded that things can seem very overwhelming right now. Maybe a good mentor or counselor or family friend or therapist could help her work through this. Anyone who isn't you . And if she is having trouble get her support - (a therapist).

Good luck! The most important thing to know is---- this will work out. I am a pediatrician and that's the best I can come up with. We all muddle through this stuff and if you give it time your own answers will likely be an even better fit for you and for her than these rushed thoughts. Maria


I'm sorry your daughter threw you a curve ball. Here's an idea - AFS (American Field Service). When I was 17 I had a great year in Australia as an exchange student with AFS. I wish I could do it again! It might be an option for your daughter. I checked with a Bay Area AFS employee to see what was available for next year and she said: ''There are a couple of programs still open for Gap Year next year: Community Service Semester and Year Programs and High School Programs. There is still room in the year program to Paraguay for community service, for instance. The application deadlines are approaching quickly. Check the web-site or contact me for more information.'' San Francisco Bay Team AFS-USA ahenry@afs.org Ph. 847-772-3125 Mary, AFS returnee, Wisconsin to Australia
Part Two

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my concerns about my daughter's gap year request; I've read through each comment and appreciate the collective wisdom of this community. In these past few days, we've been talking a lot (well, my daughter's been talking and I am doing my utmost to just listen) and she has shared ''that even if she'd gotten into Harvard, she'd be taking a year off.'' This spoke volumes and my husband and I are fully on board with the value of the gap year for her. She has wisely accepted the offer from one of the two excellent schools she got in to (the one with lesser reputation but a better fit for her interests) and is exploring two great internship options on the East Coast for the coming year. I am grateful that she has the maturity to appreciate that she will get more out of school by taking time off and the guts to put the brakes on the whole college-bound train. This leads to today's question, very different than last week's. As a parent, how do you go from being a manager to being a consultant? And, a more important and deeper question, how does one make peace turning over the reins to a (former) child as she begins her young adult life? My parents were absolutely uninvolved in my teen/young adult/college life, and my twenties were a time of sheer chaos. I just can't help but bring my own experience to the table here. But at the end of the day, being too involved may be just as great a disservice. My kid has all it takes to go out in the world and lead a productive meaningful life. Now I need to assume a new place in the background, and could use some advice as to how to lovingly, responsibly achieve that. Thanks again for the support. Moving fast through a time of transition


To help learn your new role/relationship with grown-up child who is taking a gap year, I suggest the ''Off to College'' moms' group that meet in Albany once a month. It's free and is led by Ms. Toni Littlestone. It is specifically to address the topics of how to navigate the changing relationship you will have with your child when they go off to college (or are soon to go off to college). She has a website which is www.tonilittlestone.com From there, you can get her contact information. another mom of college student
It isn't easy but you might want to listen to the speech Steve Jobs gave at (I think it was) Stanford commencement available on You Tube. Basically it is really crucial to accept that we can't know which experiences will mean the most to our kids and how their futures will unfold. I graduated from a presigious private high school at the bottom of my class because I wanted to do hair. I worked at hair salons and barely went to community collges for a few years, got a D in a class called ''Magic, Myths and Medicine'' (!) then one day - bam out of the blue -decided to go to medical school. Now I am an established Pediatrican and I love what I do.

I think it is best to just listen and say very little. Don't ask a million questions too early or your real thoughts will be obvious. Just say - Huh...that sounds like an interesting idea. After you have had the chance to think about it more I would love to hear your thoughts and talk about it.''

Let EVERYTHING sit a few days before you jump in. Don't pretend to know the outconme of all this, because we don't. You can say things gently like ''well, I might be concerned about a, b or c ....but I am sure you have thought about that.''----

Own your own worries as your own if you have to vent them or you think there is something she needs to hear---say ''this is MY worry but it may not be true for you..''

And then just let it happen. You can still ask for safety information and point out that you tell your partner where you are late at night, etc. You can be nosy with a bit of humor but be respectful and let her make mistakes -a ton of them - your chaos may have had some benefit in shaping you and no one learns without failure. Expect a lot of it and be there to help sort it out when she needs you without anything but friendly support. Don't be a know it all!!!! Be someone who embraces the journey adn all the ups and downs. Our worst moemnt can be out best. Good luck. Maria


How to move forward? I think it's about moving from being a person who wants to make good choices for your child, to being a person who wants her child to make good choices. We do what we can to instill good judgment in them. then they reach an age where we can offer advice but the consent part is not ours anymore. She seems to be insisting that you let her make her own choices. that tells me that she thinks you are more controlling than she'd like - and since she sounds pretty darned solid, it sounds like you did a pretty great job teaching her how to make sound judgments. So...be less controlling. Bite your tongue. Do behavior mod on yourself. Remember that the prize for doing all this work on yourself is that when she is a young adult who really can choose how much she wants to have a close relationship with her mom, she will choose you. Because I can tell you - my mom never backed off. She always had to have it her way and she never said ''I'm sorry.'' Ever. And I moved 3000 miles away and never looked back. Peggy

Gap Year: Pros and Cons

July 2011

Greetings - our daughter, entering her senior year of high school next month, is contemplating taking a gap year before college. We would really appreciate hearing from those families whose kids have taken a gap year and what pros and cons you encountered with this decision. I can see reasons for this plan, and reasons against, but I have little real life information to go on. Here are some of the issues: if a gap year is chosen, is it best to participate in a program of some sort? Is it a good idea to get a job for the year? Does it make it harder to enter college a year later in any way? Is it better to just do a junior year abroad if travel is a priority? Does anyone have a great gap year program to recommend? My daughter loves musical theater and would like more experience in that field. Anyway, many questions, not too many answers, grateful for any insights. Thanks!


In my college admissions practice several of my students have opted to take a Gap Year. Some chose to take a break from hectic academics, others craved a new experience, others had weak college profiles and wanted to delay their apps. Often times it is better to apply to colleges during senior year, then ask the college of your choice for a deferral. Usually, this is granted, with the exception of the UCs and public schools. Additionally, it is easier to apply to colleges during senior year rather than interrupting a gap year experience to dig in and get those apps out. Once you identify what it is your student wants out of the gap year, there are plenty of ways to go. My students found Leap Now terrific (albeit pricey). Others found ways to do serious community service (teaching in the Bronx), another worked at NOLS. There's no perfect path, just that wonderful individual path that fits your daughter's interests. BTW, colleges respond very well to students who take gap years since students come to their campuses w/ a greater understanding of the world. Marilynn
A gap year can be an amazing experience for a young person, but it needs to be well planned. Colleges consider productive, thoughtful gap years to be a plus for kids (in Europe, they've long been an expected step in one's educational life), and they can even make a student more appealing as a college candidate.

There is a growing interest in gap years as we begin to focus more on education as a holistic, life long process rather than a finite 4-year period that culminates in a degree. As a result, there are many incredible, exciting gap opportunities popping up. There is a huge diversity of ''program'' options as well as the possibility of designing one's own gap year (which requires real dedication to crafting a plan and carrying it out).

I'm a local educational consultant; I worked with a current client to select a gap year for 2010-11, and she's just returned from an incredible learning adventure abroad and we're now getting started on her college admissions process. Another client has just decided to defer college admission to attend a year-long gap program on the East Coast.

I'd be happy to talk with you about what's out there for kids and the pros and cons of spending a year ''on'' after high school. Feel free to email or give me a call, and good luck to your daughter in this exciting time! Lora


I took a gap year many years ago and it was one of the best things I've ever done. I worked and then traveled in Europe, and felt like a really competent person who could support herself when I went to college. Also appreciated college, after working in restaurants. I happened to go to a college where quite a few people had taken time off, so I fit right in. The only down side I can see is feeling older, more mature, when you start college if you are surrounded by freshman who have come straight from home. anon
It is possible to get a UC or other college admission deferred for a year. So go ahead with the college applications now. The kids I've known who did a gap year either worked or were exchange students. Good luck!
Our son took a gap year (2009-2010) and it was a great decision. He was young (October birthday) and was burned out on school. He was not ready for college, though we knew we wanted him to go eventually. So he applied to college, got in, and deferred admission for a year. Our two rules: He could not live at home and he had to support himself. He did great. He is a competitive chess player, so he had a focus. He spent the year playing chess tournaments around the world and teaching and writing about chess to support himself. When he was not traveling, he lived in an apartment with some chess-playing friends. It was a wonderful year. He grew up, and learned a lot about himself and about self-suffiency, initiative, and economics (managing his income and expenses, keeping logs for taxes, budgeting). He became quite proficient at French, and became a very savvy traveler and a real entrepreneur. He was ready for college when he went, and was more committed and focused than he would have been had he gone straight from high school. What's the Rush?
Our daughter took a gap year (got into the college she wanted, then deferred) and it was one of the best decisions she ever made. After working so hard throughout h.s., she was way too burnt out to go straight to college. She spent time volunteering overseas for the 1st semester, then came home and worked (something she didn't have time to do during h.s.) 2 different jobs 2nd semester. She went into her 1st year of college rested, motivated and eager to learn again - and did really well. Gap Year Proponent
I am all for a gap year or even years, depending upon the child. I took one myself some 40 years ago and didn't suffer from it later in life in any way. I am a professor at UC and I think that a gap year is a good idea now more than ever. Some young people are not ready for college and can use another year to mature. I think that it's a good idea to apply for college anyway and then make a decision in May, including the possibility of deferral for a year. In this day and age, most students get their BA and move home. My sense is that it might be better to have some life experience before investing the time and money in college so as to make it really worthwhile. Too many students are parked in college and haven't a clue why they're there. They fool around, waste time/money,and four years are over before they know it. I think that your daughter could do any combination of things---work, volunteering, theater classes, travel---and it would be fine. Personally, I think that if she travels, some kind of structured program is better, but that's just my opinion. anyway, i promise you that taking off a year will not hurt her future in any way. Go for Gap Year!
Our daughter planned a gap year between high school and community college. For her, a structured program was essential. She chose to attend an international language school in Madrid for three months. She stayed with a host family arranged by the school and had a wonderful experience being in Spain, improving her Spanish, and learning to be without us. She chose to forgo her the second part of her gap year for a variety of reasons, and instead enrolled in a couple of classes at community college when she returned before starting her regular classes the following fall. The college consideration is significant--if planning to attend a 4-year college it is probably preferable to apply and request a deferral for a year. That way, your student has access to all of the college application process at high school. anon
Our son just finished a gap year and it was absolutely the right thing for him to do--an opportunity to explore the world and his own place in it before heading off to college. He had a great time and many of his friends also took a gap year. Each one did something different and had a great year. The one common theme among all of them was that they had interests that they were passionate about and planned their activities around those interests. My son's year included volunteering, taking non-academic courses, traveling, participating in a program, and working. One program that a lot of the kids did for shorter and longer periods of time was a course through the National Outdoor Leadership School--it was both educational and physically challenging.

Our son funded his own gap year so he choose his activities carefully to maximize his budget and his time off. We also encouraged him to plan out his year ahead of time, month by month, so that he could see how the pieces fit together and whether all of the things on his wish list would fit into one year. Just as an aside, in deciding if a gap year is right for your daughter, if she is considering going to a UC, a gap year will be more difficult to take as the UCs, unlike most private colleges, do not allow students to defer admission for a year. Bottom line--there was no down side to our son taking a gap year and, in fact, he is now energized and excited about starting college. Gap year mom


Our now 27 year old daughter took a gap year when she finished high school. It was a somewhat uncommon thing to do at that time, so we were a little nervous. She applied to colleges, chose one that was a good match for her and deferred her admission for a year. She spent part of the year working on a farm in Americus, Georgia, where she got room and board in exchange for her work, and part of the year on a Greenforce program mapping the reefs in an obscure part of the Bahamas. She paid to participate in the Greenforce program. All in all, her gap year was a great experience. She lived with people very different from her friends and family, and in places that were very different from California. She was ready for a break from the structure and rigors of school, and at the end of the year she was ready for what college had to offer. Since she took a year off, most of the friends she made in college are a year or two younger than she is, but that doesn't seem to have been important. Kathy

City Year in Boston after high school?

April 2011

My daughter, a senior in high school and also attending community college, has expressed interest in doing a year of community service with City Year in Boston. Has anyone had experience with this program? Stefanie


My nephew, a kid from Minneapolis, did City Year in NY a few years ago. It was a wonderful experience. He hit a rough patch at one point, and it was nice that he had some (extended) family in the NY area. But he didn't need to lean heavily on them and had a great time. He couldn't wait to get back, and now is at NYU. City Year Aunt
To the parent who asked about City Year in Boston, I currently live in Boston but will be moving to the Bay area in the late summer with my family. City Year is sort of like the Peace Corps but with a different mission in terms of helping children, and having neighborhood programs for people in need. There's significant structure to the organization, good oversight and they do a lot of good in communities that may not have opportunities otherwise. I've had interns that have participated in City Year and I've never heard a negative thing about it from them. I've also seen some of the construction projects going on, and the participants were well supervised, and not doing anything that looked to be beyond the scope of a normal teen (hammering nails, carrying wood, etc.). I hope your teen enjoys their time in Boston, and you can email me privately if you have ''city'' questions! Lisa

Gap year options for international travel?

Feb 2011

Greetings - our daughter, a junior, has decided to take a gap year between the end of high school and her freshman year in college. We'd love to hear from other parents and/or students who have investigated gap year options and have a program(s) to recommend. Our daughter loves international travel, has studied Latin and French in high school, is a big fan of the humanities (math, not so much). We haven't really delved into this yet and managed to completely miss the recent gap year fairs held at two local high schools. We've checked the archives for info on gap year programs, but there is not much there and it is not that current. So any leads, experiences, resources, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks...


My son is currently in his gap year. He spent 3 months in the fall in Panama volunteering with Global Humanitarian Adventures painting orphanages, building stoves, teaching English, etc. He is currently in Ecuador with Experiental Learning International. This is also a volunteer organization. He'll be gone for 3 months. He found these organizations on his own. Look for international volunteer organizations on-line. He has greatly benefited personally from this experience and is now looking forward to college in the fall with a different perspective. Teresa
Hi there, My son is currently traveling overseas having taken a gap year between high school and college. Unfortunately it is a bit late now, but we attended a gap year fair in San Francisco and had an opportunity to review a lot of programs. Here is a link to all the programs available: http://www.usagapyearfairs.org/pages/gapyearprogram.php?view=gapyear&p=3

My son ended up on the LeapNow program. I would NOT recommend this program. Long story short, there was not the type of supervision they promised and out of the original nine participants only one completed the program. They of course kept the money (a lot) and took very little responsibility for the issues. Having said that, I would recommend the Carpe Diem program. We met the director and they seem to really have it much more together.

It did end up well, as my son continued to travel on his own and is doing very well. He will start college in the Fall and there is no doubt in my mind that he would not have been successful at college unless he took this year off. I highly recommend it! Good luck. psl


Boarding schools with a post-graduation year?

Feb 2011

I wanted to know if anyone has recommendations about boarding schools with a post graduation year. I've read it's a 13th year of high school that prepares you for college. My daughter has good grades and will probably meet all of her requirements for a 4 year college but, she has ADHD,young for her grade, and receives support in school. I just don't see her ready to go to college in two years. I have also thought about a gap year experience but, I would like to have her work on academics. I would love any information or opinion. Lisa


Many East Coast boarding schools offer PG years, although they can be quite expensive. Off the top of my head, Hotchkiss, Deerfield, Andover, and Exeter all offer post-graduate years. As an Exeter alumna, I can safely say that my PG friends got a lot out of their experiences, and gave a lot in return. I knew many PG students who came for one reason, like soccer or basketball, and left with an entirely new set of skills and passions. (NB Many PG students are athletes using the year to redshirt.) Some students didn't apply for the PG year, but instead re-did senior year, which often has more rigorous course-work requirements, although this depends on the school. Finally, the schools mentioned have high acceptance rates at some wonderful universities, so it's also a possible path to another top-tier school. S
I highly recommend the Woolman Semester, located in the Sierra foothills near Nevada City. Many students have attended Woolman for a postgraduate semester and they have had amazing experiences. At graduation, the gratitude of the students and their parents is palpable- the academic and personal growth and learning that takes place during the four months at Woolman is remarkable. It is a strong academic program that engages students at all levels. You and your daughter should definitely check it out.

I first became aware of the power of the Woolman Semester from talking with Katja when she was attending in the spring of 2005. I joined the board in 2006 and have found it very rewarding to continue learning about the value of the program from students and their parents. I have great respect for the teachers, staff and community who create a rich learning environment for a diverse group of students each semester. My main role on the board is raising scholarship funds so that any qualified student can attend, regardless of financial ability. Cindy


2007 - 2009 Recommendations


Son is interested in taking a year off

Dec 2009

I was wondering if anyone has experience with an organization called, LeapNow.org. My son is interested in taking a year off after high school and I found this randomly on the internet. Is it mainly for ''troubled'' kids or is it also for good kids just wanting a year break from academics? Thanks. interested


My son's school called these programs Gap Year. If you google ''Gap year programs'' you'll see lots of them. My son is on a gap year right now. His program involves travel, some studies (classes are college accredited) and a service project. He is having a ball. His high school very much supported the idea. Kids who went ranged from those who were brilliant and wanted to have an international experience before college, kids who are very interested in social programs around the world, and kids who needed a year to grow up some before hitting the demands of college. A truly troubled kid would need a program specifically for them. The other programs expect self sufficiency, cooperation and focus. Yes, they get a year's break from academics and have the experience of a lifetime! pleased mom

Gap year ideas

Nov 2009

My son is interested in taking a gap year between high school and college. He is very interested in film, film production, etc. Does anyone have experience or know about a program for youth with these interests? Or, do you have a recommendation for someone who ''counsels'' kids on gap year opportunities? anon


I'd like to second a previous poster's advice: David Denman (415.332.1831) in Sausalito is a great resource for gap year activities, including a program in Siena, Italy, that he created. I've referred students looking for gap year ideas to David for nearly ten years now. Every single one has come back with not only gratitude for the introduction, but also excitement and enthusiasm about the previously-unimagined possibilities. --- Wes
Global Citizen Year is a new program for the Gap Year. Students come together with soem initial classes and program and then go to different third world countries to participate in work projects as a group. You can read more at www.globalcitizenyear.org. Cathy
Hello, I'm a college advisor as well as a parent of a daughter who was interested in filmmaking and taking a gap year. I did some research and came up with an interesting program called Brown Ledge Gap Year (brownledgegapyear.com). The program involves road trip travel within the US, and documentary filmmaking of the experience. My daughter ended up not taking a gap year - but I always thought the program sounded interesting. Best of luck! Martha

Groups that provide Gap Year opportunities

Jan 2009

I am looking into Gap Year possibilities for my teen-ager, and wondering if anyone has had experience with the organization Dynamy or other groups that provide Gap Year opportunities. Thank you! viva


Dynamy is one of the big players in the Gap Year industry, although it's by no means the only one. There are so many intriguing alternatives! I've heard good things about Dynamy, and it's also the outfit that organizes the Gap Year Fairs - just like those huge free college fairs, but these are focused exclusively on Gap Year programs - that are popping up all over the country. There's one on March 1 in San Francisco that you might want to check out. It's at the SF Jewish Community High School. I've posted more info on Gap Year stuff here too, if you're interested: http://youngadults.about.com/od/collegealternatives/a/gapyear.htm. Jackie

Seeking advice about gap year programs

Nov 2008

My senior daughter is planning a ''gap year'' between high school and college. She is looking at Spanish language programs in Spain and a volunteer community service teaching or coaching sports in Central or South America. I'm looking to talk with anyone who has experience with the following programs: AIL Madrid, Escuela Internacional, Real Gap Experience

Also if anyone has any experience with other similar programs, I would love to hear about them. Thanks!


There are many gap year programs that are really excellent. One thing to consider is whether your daughter will be eighteen already. Ours wasn't and that limited her choices quite a bit, especially for organizations that included paid work or volunteering. We finally ended up with a language school in France that was prepared to be flexible. It makes a difference if she's going alone, or going with friends. My daughter found it very tough at the language school and homestay for the first month - she started out speaking no French at all. It was hugely helpful that we were able to see her at that time and give her some support. But then she realised that all these people who were older than she was were just as shy and disoriented, so she ended up becoming quite a social organiser. It was really noticeable when she went to orientations at her college the next year, how much more mature she was than other students coming straight from school. She's continued to feel confident with friends of all different ages. So, basically, gap years are great. Fiona

Do you have personal experience with gap year programs?

Oct 2008

My son is considering a gap year between HS and college. There does not seem to be a great deal of information out there on this choice, and I was hoping that someone on this forum might offer pointers on resources or have personal experiences with students taking a gap year. parent of a smart but non-academic child


My daughter had an excellent gap year experience with City Year, an AmeriCorp program. She lived in NYC and did literacy work in a primary school in the South Bronx. She learned much about herself and the world, had a great time living in the City, and earned a $5,000 scholarship. Check out the City Year web site http://www.cityyear.org/ Msc
I think it's great that your son wants to take a year (or two) off between HS and college; the choices listed on the archived postings sound excellent, and I especially loved the letter from the teen who had taken time off. Employment working toward self-sufficiency for a year or two is also very helpful. But let me respond also as a university professor. Before coming to Cal (where the overwhelming majority of students are unbelievably motivated) I taught at a state institution in the Midwest where a large percentage of the kids were not motivated at all. They drank to extreme excess, burned through their credit cards, and exhibited little to zero interest in academics. A huge and sad waste of time (theirs and mine) and money (their parents'). I found myself wishing every day that these kids could have been sent out as volunteers or into the work force before coming to the university, so that they could have found some direction and/or understood their enormous privilege. Going to college does not make a college student. With good parental guidance and support, a child who takes a year or two off could make a great college student, if that's what s/he decides to do in life. I wish you and your son luck with your choice. formally disgusted college prof

Need resources for gap year programs

April 2008

My daugther is graduating from high school this June. I would like to know if anyone has had a successful experience with a gap year program. Most institutions charge a lot of money to just discuss options. I would like to give my daughter a year off to relax and mature before going to college. Christine


My daughter chose to take a gap year without a ''program'', which was easily accepted by her college, NYU. She has been living independently and working almost full time at a coffee shop. She felt that her high school life had been so ''programmed'' that she didn't want to be in any kind of programmed situation. Although I was a bit apprehensive about the lack of structure, and concerned that she would not be able to take on the responsibilities of living on her own, I have been pleasantly surprised. She has matured a great deal, had time to unwind from a grueling high school experience, and is way more ready to face the challenges of college. Sometimes an expensive program isn't the answer! Anonymous

2004 - 2006 Recommendations


Deferring college for a year after high school - programs?

Feb 2006

I'd love some leads and feedback about experiences with high school grads who opted to defer their college acceptance for a year and who did a 'gap year'. What type of programs did you find rewarding, valuable or which didn't work out? In retrospect, was it a good idea? Please drop me an email. Thanks Rochelle


Our daughter (now 21) took a gap year between high school and college. It was an excellent idea for her - she was tired of academics and wanted to do something different and away from California. We were nervous about this at first - worrying whether she'd actually go back to college after a year out. Our compromise with her was that she apply to college and then ask for a deferment. We also discussed several various things that she might like to do, and the costs associated with those options. She used the web to find specific possibilities in the general areas that interested her. (As she's on a quarter abroad program in Africa at the moment, I am sorry that I can't tell you which exact websites she found most useful.) She ultimately ended up spending Sept to Dec in Americus, Georgia working for Koinonia, a program related to Habitat for Humanity. She worked on a farm, made chocolate, did some tutoring, participated in a protest at the School of the Americas, and generally got a taste of life in the south - race relations are very different there than in our hometown of Oakland. From January to March, she spent 10 weeks camping in the Bahamas with Greenforce, a British environmental organization. She learned to scuba dive, and spent most of her time helping them map a coral reef for the Bahamian Government. Another very interesting slice of life, complete with tons of bug bites! After that program was over, she decided to return to Koinonia for the rest of her gap year. She is now a junior at Carleton College in Minnesota. She's made friends at Carleton, loves the academics there, and is involved in a bunch of activities. She has had no problem being a year older than most of the kids in her class. She feels that her year off was one of the best things she's done, and I'd agree! ken
Rochelle and all parents of teens, My name is Matt Cohen-Price and I am 18 years old. I graduated from Skyline High School in Oakland last year with the intent to enroll at Goucher College in Baltimore. I asked the school for a year deferment, because I wanted to give ''real life,'' (as us kids who are a bit tired of school and home call it), a try. I haven't made a better decision in a long time. Americorps was started in the 1980's and greatly expanded by President Clinton to include three types of programs - the National Civilian Conservation Corps, Americorps Vista, and State/National Direct. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, it is most easily described as the Peace Corps but in the United States - working in schools, nonprofits, government, and construction. More information can be found at http://www.americorps.org/about/ac/index.asp .

I work for a nation-wide Americorps organization called City Year that focuses on service in schools. City Year recruits over 1,000 17 to 24 year olds every year to be corps members in 15 sites across the country. I work in the 45-strong Seattle/King County corps in Washington. I work with seven others running a Saturday service learning program for middle school students across Seattle (we have 80 kids showing up weekly) and I do literacy tutoring, assist in classrooms, and teach to small groups at a neighborhood school. (And no, I didn't have any teaching or classroom experience going in to the year - they kinda throw you in and you figure it out as you go!). The work is hard - the hours are long and the pay is bad. But it is unbelievably, amazingly worth it.

As far as I see it, the three main groups of people who choose to participate in Americorps programs are high school graduates with no firm plans for college or the years directly ahead, students in the middle of college (with no firm plans for finishing or the years directly ahead), and college graduates who want to wait out their college loans (payments or held off and the government pays the interest during your Americorps term for you) or who are not ready to enter the job market. But the group I rarely see represented, but who could benefit hugely from the year, are others like me--high school graduates who have plans, who know where they're going, know what they want to do and how they are going to get there. I knew when I applied to City Year that I was going to college, and I plan to graduate four years after enrolling. I also knew that I wanted to do some real work, get involved in the nonprofit world, and allow service to be my first priority for a while over classroom-based learning. This program is giving me the experience and the knowledge I need to direct the next few years of my life, reminding me what I need to learn and what skills I have to develop to make a life doing the work that I want to do.

The work I am doing this year is amazing and fulfilling, but it is not for the faint of heart. There are bad days, there are insanely long days. Hell, there are long months. There are days when I don't receive one ''thank you'' or happy glance from the students I work with, there are days when people don't show up, when kids say they don't care. But then, there are all the other days, all the tiny moments, the thank you's and the ''A'' grades from the slackers and the bullies you've been working with for months. There are days like today when a 19 year old in a wheelchair and no microphone spoke to 79 middle school students (in a room with horrible acoustics), and, instead of taunting from the students, there was silence, applause, and interactive questions. There are the good days. That's why I get up in the morning. And that's why I hands-down, wholeheartedly, completely recommend that every High School senior consider deferring and trying out a gap year with Americorps.

Forgive me if this response is a bit disorganized or incomprehensible - I just got back from stuffing 11,500 envelopes with awareness and fundraising pamphlets for the Muscular Dystrophy Organization of Seattle with 79 5th through 9th graders after workshops taught our students about what having permanent disabilities really means. I hope they got a little tiny bit of comprehension about what it must feel like to live with a disability for one’s entire life - I know I did. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have - I'm happy to talk.


Taking off a year or two before college

May 2004

We're looking for guidance (books, counselor, consultant) to help our daughter (now a Berkeley High junior) create an interesting program for heself for the year after high school -- something other than college that will get her out of the house (i.e., not living at home; preferably in another city or state), doing something interesting on her own. She's especially interested in drama and music and wants to wait a year or so for college. Any suggestions? Exploring-the-options Parent


I would like to recommend David Denman -- he's an educational consultant and does something called Time Out Adventures -- he helps teens and early twenties young people find great things to do during a year off of school. His website is http://www.timeoutadventures.net/. Check out his Siena Sojourn. He's in Marin. David has worked with some of the teens I mentor and they have really appreciated his help. I'm an educational consultant as well...I call my practice Learning Conversations. I help young people and their families design their own unique learning plans and I help teens create alternative paths to higher education. I am currently working with several teens whose passions are drama and music. I'll be offering a program in the fall for teens who want to design and direct their own learning called Independent & Interdependent Studies.--Claudia L'Amoreaux, Haven Learning Center, 510.665.9141 Claudia
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