What is a gap year and should your teen take one?
A gap year is a year-long break, usually taken after school or college and before going to university. Traditionally, this is a year spent travelling and/or volunteering overseas, but it needn’t focus exclusively on being out of the country, as volunteering and work experience at home can also be incorporated. Sometimes it's taken once students finish studying and before entering the workplace (regardless of whether or not they've been to university!) and in some cases it provides a convenient buffer for students who needed to reapply to university the year after they had intended to go.
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Gap years have become increasingly popular, but as a parent, you may be wondering if a gap year is the right decision for your teen. So let's take a look at the benefits and downsides of a gap year, as well as ways to support your teen in making the decision of whether or not to take one.
Benefits of a Gap Year
Gaining Real-World Experience One of the main benefits of a gap year is that it allows students to gain real-world experience and develop life skills. For example, working or volunteering can help students develop independence, responsibility, and time management skills. They can also learn about different fields and industries, which can help them make more informed decisions about their future career.
Broadening Perspective Traveling during a gap year can expose students to different cultures, languages and ways of life, which can broaden their perspective and help them become more adaptable and open-minded. It can also help them develop intercultural communication skills and understand different customs, religions and social practices.
Self-discovery A gap year can also help students gain a better understanding of their interests, values, and career goals. By taking a year off, students can explore different fields, take part in activities they are passionate about, and gain a better sense of what they want to study and what kind of career they want to pursue.
Improved academic performance Taking a gap year can also have a positive impact on academic performance. Students can come back to their studies with a renewed focus and motivation, having had the time to reflect on their goals and interests. They might also be more mature and better able to handle the demands of university life.
Potential Downsides of a Gap Year
Adjusting to the academic setting One potential downside of a gap year is that students may find it difficult to readjust to the academic setting after a year off and find it harder to get back into the study mindset.
Financial burden A gap year can also be a financial burden, especially if students choose to travel or take up expensive activities without supplementing this with work. It can add an extra year of expenses both for parents and students.
Uncertainty and lack of direction It's also possible for students to feel uncertain or lost during their gap year, particularly if they don't have a clear plan or goals. Without direction, students may find it difficult to make the most of their time off and come back to their studies feeling unfulfilled, without having achieved anything meaningful during their time off.
Delayed start to university Taking a gap year means that students will be starting university a year later than their peers which can make them feel behind or older than their classmates.
How to Support Your Teenager in Making the Decision
Encourage them to think about their goals It's important for your teenager to think about their goals and what they want to achieve during their gap year. Encourage them to think about their interests, values, and career goals, and to work out what they'd like to do during a gap year to help them achieve those goals.
Help them plan and budget If your teen decides to take a gap year, it's important to help them plan and budget for their year off. This can include setting financial goals, researching funding opportunities, and creating a budget for travel, living expenses, and other costs - which shouldn't mean you funding everything (even if you can!).
Discuss potential downsides While discussing the benefits of gap year, it's important to also talk about potential downsides so that your teenager can make an informed decision. Discuss how a gap year can affect their academic and career plans, and help them weigh up the pros and cons.
Encourage them to research different options There are many different ways to spend a gap year, from traveling to working or volunteering. Encourage your teenager to research different options and to find the best fit for them. Using the year to combine a range of different things can be a really good choice.
Provide guidance Provide guidance and advice to your teenager as they make their decision. Offer to help them research different options and to provide support as they plan for their gap year - but don't make decisions for them. They are young adults now and ultimate the choices they make should be theirs.
Be open-minded The decision of whether or not to take a gap year is a personal one, and it's important to be open-minded and supportive of your teen's choice. Remember that taking a gap year can be a valuable experience that can help them grow and develop as an individual, but if it isn't something they want to do, going straight to the next step on their career path can work well too.
For information on how you can support your child in making the right choices after school, it's all in The Parents’ Guide to Post 16 options (full edition) or The Parents’ Guide to Post 18 options