It's a seemingly universal rite-of-passage for most of us these days: SATs, college applications, acceptance letters, prom, graduation, one last summer with our childhood friends, and then we're off to some faraway (or nearby) campus to start the beginning of the rest of our life. Every year, millions of teenagers go through this exact process, but is it right for you?
Maybe you're not ready to sign up for four more years of books, papers, and all-nighters. Perhaps you don't feel prepared to decide your life path, or you're itching to see the world and just can't wait until junior year to study abroad. Maybe you found a great gap year program that fits your interests perfectly, or you just can't even put your finger on what it is, but something is telling you to pack your bags and hop on a plane across the ocean instead of across the country.
Whatever the reason, you've decided that instead of joining the hordes of college freshman drinking and skipping lectures across the country, you'll be much better off taking a gap year before college.
While every family is different, here are 5 clever ways to convince your parents to let you take that gap year after high school!
Why Might a Gap Year be Right for You?
Despite the many benefits gap years offer young adults, students commonly encounter hesitations when deciding whether or not to take a year off from academia, including the impact on job applications, how to defer college admittance and scholarships, and how much a gap year will cost.
The reality is that a gap year is not just within your reach but is a viable option to increase your overall marketability by teaching you new skills through experiential learning. Yes, a gap year takes some planning and financial responsibility. Still, it can also be one of the best things you can do with your time and energy -- and can set you apart among your peers to prospective employers.
Increasingly, conversations are evolving on the benefits of a gap year before college. The act of travel and immersion in other cultures is rightly touted for increasing self-awareness, confidence, and clarity, allowing young adults to make more refined decisions when looking to their future. These include choosing their college, their college major, and perhaps the organizations, clubs, and people they decide to get involved with while at university.
The psychological and emotional benefits of a young adult dedicating a year to chasing new experiences cannot be over-exaggerated. As one of the most formidable periods in our lifetime, it is no surprise that the post-high-school-pre-college time frame is famed as one of the best times in your life to take a gap year.
Understanding Why Your Parents Feel Inclined to Say "No"
The major concerns many parents have about their kids taking a gap year before college often have to do with money and the potential impacts on your education.
The primary reason most people talk themselves out of taking a gap year is the cost. Indeed, spending a year working, volunteering, or just traveling will take a bite out of your wallet. Still, it almost definitely won't cost as much as a year of room, board, and tuition at your average university. Yet, like any other significant life decision, it's a financial commitment, so you do have to consider whether it's realistic, given the state of your finances.
The other familial objections usually run along the lines of: "Are you sure this is the right thing to do now?" "Why don't you want to go to college with all your friends?" "Why not wait to do this until after you graduate?" "What will future employers think?" or some other question that reminds you that what you're doing comes with risks.
A gap year might not have been culturally acceptable when your parents were your age, so they may have a preconceived notion about gappers being 'burnouts' or that it means you're lost. The reality is, gap years are often the most educational and formative experience a young adult can have.
How To Get Them to Say "Yes"
So, how can you convince your parental figures that this is the Best. Idea. Ever? Here are a few points you should prepare before you have any sort of real-talk conversation about it.
Create a Reasonable Gap Year Budget
Since money will probably be the most significant issue, this is where you’ll need to focus. No, you don't need to come up with an itemized list of every possible expense for 12 months of backpacking through Southeast Asia, but it will help your case if you can lay out what you expect to spend – and how you're going to pay for it. Chances are, if your family is helping pay for your education, they may not have the additional funds to sponsor your gap year. Get a summer job, look over your savings, practice making a budget, and show your parents that you're responsible enough to be trusted with a credit card halfway across the world.
To take it a step further, aim to have a game plan for ways to offset your costs while you are actually traveling and living abroad. You may look into teaching abroad on the side, take advantage of different work exchange opportunities, or even apply for scholarships. Details will be vital in convincing your parents that you know what you're getting yourself into.
Plan Your Itinerary and Choose Programs
So now you have a rough idea of how much money you expect to use – but what are you spending it on? Gap years take all different forms: some people choose to volunteer abroad in one location or several different places; others treat it as a time to get to know themselves better; some find internships abroad, and others just want to have fun and maybe pick up a new language while they're at it.
Showing Mom and Dad the tangible skills and advantages you'll be gaining during that time is a great way to demonstrate that the unmissable opportunity is actually the gap year after high school.
Gap years go beyond stomping through jungles with a backpack – plenty of volunteer programs accept participants as young as 18, and many provide hands-on experience and training in fields like medicine or conservation. There are plenty of pre-planned gap year ideas out there from which to choose.
It will seriously help your case to find a program (or several) for your gap year, both to reassure your parents that you're not going to get lost in the middle of the wilderness and so they have a better idea of what you're doing and why you're doing it. Do some research on helpful websites (like this one!), check out the USA Gap Year Fairs, and find the program that will show them you won't be wasting your time.
If you're just planning on spending the year hitchhiking from one surfing location to the next, well, that sounds awesome, but planning-wise, you're on your own.
Highlight Personal Development Opportunities
The point of taking a gap year is not because you can't think of anything better to do; it's because avoiding burnout and investing your time in experiential learning sounds better right now. Sure, everyone's reasons are different, but the goal is to benefit you somehow. Whether your interests take you on a gap year in Cambodia or Kansas, make sure you're doing something useful and relevant to you and your goals.
If you want to study conservation, what better way to start than with some hands-on practice in Costa Rica? If you're a future marine biologist, budding journalist, or anything in-between, you can find a way to make your gap year help you develop those skills or pursue those interests.
We haven’t even mentioned the life skills you'll pick up along the way: independence, flexibility, patience, responsibility, planning, and managing a budget. College is supposed to teach you all those things (eventually), but why not get started outside of the classroom?
Colleges and employers are beginning to encourage post-high school gap years. We wrote a whole article on what college admissions really think of gap years. That piece may help convince your parents that your gap year will support, not hinder, your personal and professional development.
You’ll likely need to convince your parents that you won't be giving up any opportunities by putting off school for a year or two. Showing loved ones the tangible skills and advantages you'll be gaining during that time is a great way to demonstrate that the unmissable opportunity is actually the gap year after high school.
Use References and Consult Resources
Any good plan can be better with suggestions from others, and this is no different. Though it might feel like it, you're not the first person planning a gap year -- you're not even the first person planning to go wherever you're heading.
Take advantage of other people's wisdom and experience to help you out. Whether you know someone nearby who can give you first-hand tips or find a kindred spirit online, there are other people out there who are more than willing to offer you advice and guidance. Check out sites like Go Overseas as well as travel forums to find other people doing similar things. Inquire with interesting programs if they can put you in touch with alum and make good use of their experiences.
Additional Handy Gap Year Resources:
- How to Talk to Your Family About Taking a Gap Year
- Blog: Higher Education and the Gap Year, by gap year organization Thinking Beyond Borders
- Book: The Complete Guide to a Gap Year, by author Kristin White
- Article: Taking a Gap Year to Explore Alternatives Before College, on Petersons
- Website: The American Gap Association, created by gap year expert Ethan Knight
- Studies: Research Suggests a 'Gap Year' Motivates Students, from EducationWeek
From your parents' perspective, it'll be much more convincing to say, "I talked to Chris, who spent a year volunteering at a conservation NGO in Ecuador, and here's what he recommended…" vs. "I think this place will probably let me stay there?" Real-life examples are always better than imaginary ones. Save the imagination for the trip itself.
Show Them Your Enthusiasm
Sure, it sounds silly, but any salesman will tell you that the key to getting people to buy your product is your sales pitch. You may not be selling a product, but you are selling an idea, and your parents are going to have a hard time supporting this idea if they can't see why you're passionate about it.
Ensure your family can see just how excited you are about the idea and how important it is to you. It's a year of your life you're talking about here – you'd better be excited about what you're going to be doing, or why bother?
Get Out There, Gapper!
Once you have a rough budget and itinerary all planned out, it's time to sit down with the parents or loved ones and have a serious discussion. Hopefully, you've mentioned the idea before, so it won't be the first time they hear about this. If you've done your homework and prepared answers to all the questions they might have, you shouldn't have too much of an uphill battle to convince them.
Remember – their main concern is that they won't be able to help you or take care of you wherever you are, so it's your job to show them you can take care of yourself. Oh, and take lots of pictures. Those always make parents happy.
Are you exploring your options for a gap year before college? Don't miss USA Gap Year Fairs every winter! These free (currently online) events provide a broad exposure to gap year options and connect prospective gap year students, parents, gap year organizations, educators, experts, and alumni.