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Mind the Gap Year

Authored By: 
James Vescovi, English Teacher

If you’ve ever been on the London tube, you’ve seen the signs that say, MIND THE GAP. Given that it’s college application season, my message to parents is,  “Mind the gap year.”

I know what you’re thinking: “If my child took a year off before college, she’d never go back to school. She’ll become a GAP salesclerk for life.” My response is, “Not if you handle the process correctly.”

First, let’s talk logic. The notion that all 18-year-olds are somehow ready to matriculate is ludicrous. Young children don’t learn to read at the same age; some boys get facial hair at 13, others at 16. Eighteen-year-old students do not suddenly move in lockstep, each fully prepared to choose a major and work towards it.

Your Starbucks barista or assistant cheese cutter at Eataly might very well be a college drop-out—possibly demoralized by the fact that she failed because she didn’t want to go in the first place. Moreover, you, the parent—for your hard-earned $50,000—have nothing to show for the year but a transcript replete with Ds and Fs.

Talk to your child. Tell him a gap year is an option. Colleges look favorably on students who take gap years. Malia Obama is taking one, for crying out loud!

But, you must get the planning right. When my youngest child announced he’d like a gap year, my wife and I told him, “You plan it out. It must be productive, even if it’s a job as a bar back. You will not be sleeping until 1 p.m.”

He agreed, and his year was a good one. He interned at an advertising firm and went to Europe with a program called WWOOF to work on farms in Ireland and Corsica. Upon his return, he was a gofer on a construction site. He had applied and been accepted to a college as a high school senior and, by September of his freshman year, he knew what subject he wanted to pursue and he possessed the will to pursue it.

So, if your senior wants a gap year, start planning. Don’t wait until June, when opportunities have been swooped up.

Still you ask, “But what if she never wants to go back to school?”

Calm yourself with the notion that it’s unlikely your child will be content earning $10.50/hr. for very long, especially if you’re not supporting her. Her gush of freedom will wear off, and she’ll figure out she needs college.And if she decides she loves being a salesclerk, she’ll probably be an excellent and happy one, and you’ve done your parental duty.