Taking Time Off Before Starting College – How To Handle The Gap Year

There is a film called “Temple Grandin,” a true story about a brilliant – and socially outcast – autistic girl. Temple’s mother forced her to go to college, despite Temple’s desire to work on a ranch instead. In this case, the mother’s insistence turned out to be best thing that could have happened to Temple. She went on to get a Masters Degree and to become a professor of Autism and Animal Science at Colorado University.

A “gap year” is a year off between high school and college, and students who choose to take this year off fall into two categories. Some are up to great things in the world – training for the Olympics, trekking in Nepal, studying marine life on the barrier reef. These students have a passion that they want to pursue and college takes second seat to these dreams.

The other category would have preferred to go straight to college, but they do not get admitted to a school they want to attend. Should they go to their “safety” school or spend a year doing something else, hoping they will have better luck next year?

What if my child wants to take a year off?

If you’re the parent of a student considering a gap year, and if you strongly believe she should go to a safety school rather than take a year off, see if you can get her to come to that decision herself. I believe that forcing a teenager to go to a school she thinks she’ll hate can be a recipe for disaster. Temple Grandin was the exception rather than the rule.

Life’s Unpredictability

Many students who do attend schools that were not on the top of their list end up having a great time (as attested to by Carolyn Mulligan, College Admissions Consultant). I believe most of these students came to the decision themselves to attend a less than perfect school. I have experienced this type of phenomenon myself; when I first started my business, I thought I would hate marketing. Guess what? It’s my favorite part of my job!

On the flip side, sometimes you think you will love something only to find out it was not the right fit after all. This happened to me as well: I thought I’d like being a lawyer, and discovered it was not the perfect fit I had imagined.

Do your research!

For high school seniors, before jumping in to what looks like an undesirable situation, and before saying a definite no, visit the school. Speak to students. Sit in on classes. Maybe even stay overnight and eat breakfast in the cafeteria or dining hall. If at all possible, find out what it’s like to be there. Then make your decision.

If you do decide to take a year off, make it a valuable year. Learn something you wouldn’t have learned in college. Gain life experience. Become more of the person you want to be. If you can do any of those things, in my opinion, you will not only be a better college candidate the following year, but you will be a more fulfilled human being.

Have you ever accepted an offer for a job or school admission that you thought you would love and ended up hating? Or discovered you didn’t fit as well as you thought you would in a job or a school? What’s your advice for students facing these decisions?