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A Guide to Gap Year and Semester OpportunitiesCambria Pilger
Students returning home after a tough semester in college experience mixed emotions. There’s relief of course, but also anxiety. A decision looms. What’s next?
Students learn so much about themselves during college. Personal and academic struggle can lead them to question their choice of school or major, or even their whole postsecondary path.
Every semester in my position as Director of Residential Life, I talk with students who have decided that college isn’t right for them right now. My first question to the student is always, “Do you have a plan?” I tell them I ask because their parents will want to know if they have something in mind even if it’s to work for a year while researching options.
Understandably, parents are often at a loss for words when talking to their students about the decision not to return to college. Here are four tips to help you shape this conversation.
You may be overwhelmed with feelings if your student decides not to continue college. Disappointment, shame and even guilt.
Let…it..go! You have not made a mistake. This is your student finding their way in life. They need your support at this moment, and a chance to air and explore their own feelings and needs. Your feelings are yours alone, and though you can and should acknowledge them to yourself, they ought not to come into play when talking to your student.
You truly want what’s best for your student, but emotions and judgments based on your own personal experience can get in the way of seeing the situation clearly. Again, remember not to take this personally. By focusing on your student’s abilities, style of learning and interests, you can help them decide on next steps.
Helping your student research their options is a good way to keep your mind open to all the possibilities, rather than making assumptions. For example, sometimes when a parent hears their student wants to pursue acting or writing, they assume there’s no money in this path. In fact, when you do the research together, you can learn about all the possibilities within a particular industry. There are careers in writing beyond traditional journalism. A writer can work in Public Relations, as a copywriter or content marketing manager, and even as a staff writer or writer's assistant with networks or streaming services.
The development of technology and entertainment has increased the options beyond what people once knew. There is space for every talent and interest and almost everything can be monetized.
Sometimes we’re so focused on making sure our kids don’t make the same mistakes we did that we forget how hard life can be...especially at the beginning of adulthood. We put pressure on our students to select a career early but neglect to mention that it’s likely they’ll change careers numerous times in the future.
Parents, remember how hard life can be and that your student’s decision to change their path is an opportunity to learn about and develop their passions and talents.
Changing direction is hard — and takes a lot of personal courage.
It can be unsettling not to know where your student is headed. But if they’re unhappy or performing poorly in college, and they decide not to just accept where they are and instead explore other possibilities, this is something to encourage rather than fear.
We are always evolving and at every age, what works for one person isn't ideal for another. Every adult can look back and reflect on things we'd do differently if we could go back in time. That reflection is based on lived experience. Students don’t have the benefit of experience and the world has changed considerably since we were their age.
Parents, talk to your students after each semester and be open to what you learn during the conversations. Give them the care, consideration and the support you would’ve wanted from your own parents.
Big choices — and big changes — are on the horizon for your senior and your entire family.