Should Your Child Take a Gap Year Before University?

Taking a gap year can be an extremely enriching and transformative experience for students. However, for many parents a gap year can be worrying and spark concerns that university will get put on hold for years or that degrees won’t be completed. Even though gap years can be a productive way to spend a year and is viewed as a positive experience by many universities and employers, it’s important that your teen takes a year off for the right reasons and because they really want to. Here’s all the information you need to know, so you can help your teens make an informed decision on whether a gap year is right for them.

The Benefits

If you feel as though your teen could benefit from a little more life experience and needs some time to mature before heading to university, a gap year might be the perfect solution. It will help them make better decisions, grow on a personal level, and even more importantly it reduces the student dropout rate. Currently, the first-year dropout rate at university is a whopping 30% and three out of five students don’t complete their degrees. Here’s some other benefits for you and your teen to consider.

Experience New Cultures

Experiencing a gap year abroad allows students to explore and live in a completely different culture. Not only will this broaden their horizons, it will shape their opinions and often prepare them for big life transitions, learn how to take control of new or challenging situations and also appreciate what they already have.

Personal Development

Often whilst students are embarking on their gap year, they’ll develop new skills and experience new things along the way. This can include anything from learning a new language, living on their own or completing volunteer work, to life skills such as how to communicate better or adapt to new situations quickly. It will also have a huge impact on your teens personal growth and is a fantastic opportunity for them to make real-life mistakes, learn from them, recognise their achievements and understand more about themselves. It’s certainly a great chance to experience independent living, which will also be helpful when it comes to adapting to university life when they come back.

An Academic Break

When students hit 18, it’s natural for them to want to take a break from the classroom – after all they have been in education for 13 years! A gap year will often leave your teen feeling more energised and refreshed, which leads them to feel more motivated towards their studies.

The Concerns

Alongside the benefits, there are also many concerns regarding your teen taking a gap year. The main one being that students don’t get anything out of their gap year and just treat it as a year-long holiday. That’s why it’s important for students to know why they want to take a gap year and if it’s for the right reasons. Ask them what their goals for the year would be – do they want to travel, work, get life experience or complete an internship? Are the reasons they give you sufficient and what steps are they going to take to get plans in place? Without a clear plan mapped out they could end up wasting a lot of valuable time. Here are a few other areas of concern for parents and teens to keep in mind before deciding on a gap year.

Staying On Track

If your teen is leaning towards taking a gap year, it’s important this doesn’t have a negative effect on their university place or application process. Most universities are happy with students taking a gap year, although it is important to check this carefully in advance. For some courses, it might not be wise to take a gap year due to the length of the course (eg. medicine or architecture) or if the competition for places is high and there may be a chance they don’t get in the following year. Taking all of this into consideration is crucial.

Being Unsettled

If your teen does decide to take a gap year, it’s important to keep in mind they may find it hard to settle back into their normal life or studies when they return. There are many reasons for this such as feeling disconnected from friends who have already gone to university, not wanting to study the same course they applied for before they left, or simply feeling behind in education after taking a year off. While this is a common fear, it’s not backed up by statistics. Gap Year Association statistics show that “90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year.”

It Can Be Expensive

If your teen is planning to travel during their gap year, depending on the destination and duration of the trip, the likelihood is that costs will quickly add up. Without the proper planning and organisation, a gap year abroad has the potential to take a huge financial toll on you and your teen. If funds are a concern, it’s important to consider whether the gap year abroad will be a wise investment. Often there are small adjustments that can be made to make it less expensive, such as taking a shorter trip or doing some of the activities they were planning on doing abroad closer to home.