In Praise of an Extra SemesterConnie Lissner
By this point in early summer you’re probably thinking that, as the parent of a newly-graduated high school senior, you’re home free. Your student has committed to a college for the fall and all the stress and indecision of the past year is behind both of you (although who suffered more remains to be seen). I hate to say it, but this might not be the case. Your daughter or son may walk up to you, just as you are kicking back with a relaxed sigh, and utter nine words which will reignite the panic of uncertainty: “I think I want to take a gap year.”
It’s a bombshell (according to my own parents). To help you navigate your emotions if and when this happens in your own household, I’ve compiled a handy list of DOs and DON’Ts.
I've been pleasantly surprised that cost is really not going to be an issue. Grace is working hard at three jobs this summer to pay for rent, living costs and travel and has already paid for her own airline ticket. I will supplement what she earns a little (mostly so I don't have to worry!) but only by the same amount as I would have used for home or college living expenses. She plans to work while overseas and is already collecting references and asking her Norwegian friends to make job enquiries.
Both of us expect her to support herself while she is abroad and she even hopes to have money left over to put towards college expenses. My bigger financial concern has been the fear of losing scholarships or paying higher tuition. The University has assured us that all merit aid will roll over and financial aid is likely to be very similar as FAFSA is changing to a new system based on previous years taxes. Grace has said that she will pay the cost for any difference in the cost of tuition caused by deferring which only underlines her determination.
The biggest thing this gap year decision has taught me is that at some point, whether before or after college, we all have to step back and trust our kids to make their own decisions. After all, it's their future — not ours.
I myself took a gap year living and working abroad in France and England. It was a positive and memorable experience as, like Grace, I was ready for a break and eager for some new horizons and independence. So I was open to the gap year idea but wanted to make sure she had her own good reasons and a definite and productive plan. We’ve discussed all the concerns openly and I am convinced that taking a gap year will only make her more enthusiastic, mature and committed when she does enter college in 2017.
The biggest concern for me (and I would guess most parents) is that their child may never come back from their gap year — or delay entering college indefinitely. It's tempting to just keep funneling them towards one goal and then the next out of control, fear or our own expectations. Committing to a college that she felt good about and then deferring the place helped reduce those fears for me.
I haven’t had any regrets about my decision to take a gap year. While I’m greatly looking forward to living in Norway and traveling throughout Europe, the thing I'm most excited for is a little time off! Sometimes we all need to step back from the daily grind of work or school to truly figure out who and what is most important to us, and my gap year will let me do this.
Grace wrote this essay following her high school graduation in May 2016. She has had a passion for writing since she was little. Her own experience applying to ten universities the fall of her senior year gave her an enlightened perspective on the college process and the ups and downs that go with it. After a gap year in Norway, she is now a first-year student at George Washington University where she plans to major in International Relations.
Click here to read the sequel: "For Mom, With Gratitude and Love." For her mother's perspective, be sure to read "What my daughter's gap year taught me."