Gap Year before College
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Gap Year before College
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.
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
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
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!
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).
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.
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 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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
Mary, AFS returnee, Wisconsin to Australia
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
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
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:
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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?
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
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.
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!
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
formally disgusted college prof
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.
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!
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.
Our daughter (now 21) took a gap year between high school and
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
Our compromise with her was that she apply to college and then ask
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
interested her. (As she's on a quarter abroad program in Africa
moment, I am sorry that I can't tell you which exact websites she
useful.) She ultimately ended up spending Sept to Dec in
working for Koinonia, a program related to Habitat for Humanity.
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
From January to March, she spent 10 weeks camping in the Bahamas
Greenforce, a British environmental organization. She learned to
and spent most of her time helping them map a coral reef for the
Government. Another very interesting slice of life, complete with
tons of bug
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
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
she's done, and I'd agree!
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
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.
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?
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
this page was last updated: Aug 3, 2012
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