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Advice for New College Students From a Recent GradCambria Pilger
No matter what phase of college your student is in, the idea of taking a gap year may be on their mind, either because of the last school year's pandemic challenges or for any number of other reasons!
What is a gap year? Whether you're familiar with the concept or not, this article will provide information to help you and your student decide if taking a gap year is something they should seriously consider.
Students take gap years for different purposes. Some students feel they aren't quite ready to step into college (or haven't decided if they want to go at all), so they pause after high school and take a break for a year or two until they are ready to commit to higher education.
Other young adults want to explore the world and grow their skills or passions before committing to a major and, ultimately, a "big career."
I graduated in December 2020, and I'm taking a post-college gap year (maybe more like a gap half-year) to redefine what I want to do with my skills and my degree. I'm still working (which is common during gap years since you still have to pay the bills or perhaps fund your travel). I encourage your student to think about getting a job if they take a gap year. It's a great time to save up!
However, I'm also allowing myself to have fun: doing mini road trips, picking up "odd jobs" in my neighborhood, visiting friends back at college, etc.
For me, this gap year is a time for growth. It's about settling into my "freshman year of life" by exploring new jobs/internships/passions, getting to know myself better and challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone while making money in creative ways.
I don't mean the kind of rest that comes from your student having one week off during the semester while still having assignments due at the end of it. Nor the "rest" that comes from a summer full of working an hourly job and hanging out with friends every day.
If your student takes a gap year, it's okay for them to fill that time with adventures, trips, work and even different — perhaps online — classes. In fact, I encourage them to! At the same time, remind them to get some intentional rest.
After graduating, I spent a week attending a virtual seminar about sleep. I learned about how my body works, why I had trouble sleeping in college and how to reroute my sleep schedule. I learned that during school, I didn't actually rest (or sleep) well at all. Now, a goal of my gap year is to rest better!
If your student decides to take a break during the school year, the odds are high that they won't be around their friends very much — either because their friends are taking classes or because your student is traveling and exploring independence. Either way, a gap year can be lonely.
I graduated in the middle of the year, and my university doesn't do much for mid-year graduates. The commencement ceremony was in May, so I had five months to figure out a new sense of normalcy while living at home again.
Even though I had a job at my hometown grocery store, rebuilding my sense of community was different than in college, to say the least. I flew back to campus once a month to hang out with my friends who were still in school. I spent a lot of time with my family, which was awesome because we're close. Yet I was still lonely because it felt like most of my peers were either off at college or graduates who'd already somehow found a job.
Feeling lonely during a gap year isn't a given, but it's important to be aware of the possibility so that you and your student can make a plan for their social health before the break starts.
Maybe your student has already decided that taking a gap year will be good for them, and you agree, but you don't know when. Good news: There's no rule for when and where to take a gap year!
Your student could take one before, during or after college — honestly, you, the parent, could take a gap year right now, but it might be a little more complicated.
There is value in each option. Is your student about to start college and wants to get away from the school system before jumping back into it? Are they struggling in the midst of college and need a chance to rest and recuperate? Have they just entered the freshman year of life and aren't sure what to do yet?
The latter is what prompted me to take a gap year. After I finished my classes, I didn't have a "big job" in mind, and I came out of the final semester of college so wound up from stress, lack of sleep and anxiety that I needed to take a break, a real break. I didn't intend to take a gap year, but as time went on, it just seemed like the best option. I've found it's helpful for me to say, "I'm taking a gap year," because I have a way to describe this phase. This season of life finally has a name.
Maybe a gap year is something your student needs or maybe it's not. They could even take a partial gap, like half a year or a semester, or a two-year gap! There is no prescription.
I might feel a need to say this because no one ever said it to me, but it's okay to take a gap year. For some reason, the time around high school and college feels so rushed. It feels like you have to go straight from one year of school to the next, from school to a job and from that job to a family. But this truly isn't the case.
If your student wants to take a gap year and creates a plan for it, why not? It would be worse to force them to stay on the academic path if they're feeling drained and are struggling to keep up with homework.
It's okay for your student to take a break. It won't be the end of the world or mess up their "career path," especially if they are still considering possible jobs and majors during their time away from school.
Your student will have their own personal reasons for wanting to take a gap year, and you should hear them out. Ask them honestly how they're feeling in this stage of life. If you agree a break like this could be beneficial, talk through these questions together:
Remember, there's no one way to do college or live a life! Ultimately, a gap year will be your student's decision. You get to come alongside them, support their choice and then help them figure out all the fun details.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.