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Countdown to college: Thinking about a gap year?

By Lee Shulman Bierer, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Education News

Every year more and more students and parents talk to me about the pros and cons of a gap year experience. This year, given the current situation with COVID-19, more families are seriously considering other options besides heading off to a college campus in the fall.

Taking a year off between high school graduation and freshman year can be liberating and the perfect choice for the right student.

Here are a variety of good reasons to consider a gap year.

Get off the treadmill

You really think you could benefit from some time off. High school has been stressful, the college admissions process has been incredibly anxiety-producing and you're finding yourself perhaps not as motivated or excited for the next chapter. So many high school students just feel exhausted, spent, and as if they're running on fumes. Who wants to pay the high price of college today if you're not fully invested in the experience?

Many students really benefit from doing something different for a year (community service, work, internships, etc.) and then returning to an academic environment with their batteries fully charged. Travel is typically a component of most gap year programs and due to the pandemic, that is not likely to happen this year. Students will need to be a bit more creative about how they want to spend their time. A number of colleges are now encouraging their accepted students to take off their freshman year and start renewed, refreshed and reenergized the following year.


Grow and mature

Not everybody is ready for the independence. Some parents and many students, when pressed, worry that they may not be college-ready. They may have never lived away from home for an extended period of time; they may still be a little too dependent on their parents or they may not quite have mastered self-discipline and solid decision-making skills. A gap year experience that allows them to take baby steps, lets them mature at their own rate and validates their progress and maturity can be the perfect antidote.

Just ask any college student and they will tell you that balancing academics and a social life is tricky. Many parents of freshmen who were forced to drop out during or after their freshman year now wish they had considered a gap year option.

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