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What your teen MUST do to have a successful gap year

My son is working through his Junior year in high school, and one day I noticed that he seemed a little glum. It wasn’t the “I didn’t win my last round of video games” or “I got a lousy grade on my Chem test” or even the “I just found out about a party all the guys are going to and I wasn’t invited” type. It was one of those moods that only a mom can detect. We went out do run some errands together, and it was while driving around in the car that he revealed the source of his gloom: he was struggling with his future…the battle between what he wanted to do (which he knew) and what he “should” do (which he didn’t) following his next, and last, year in high school.

As I write this, we are in the midst of winter, and yet graduation time will roll around before you know it – whether it’s this year, the next, or beyond. Even if you’re homeschooling little ones, I can attest to the saying “time flies.” So it’s never too early to start discussing this question with your teen:

“What are your plans after high school?”

A gap year can be a wonderfully educational exploration of the world at large, and perhaps a time of discovery of new and untapped interests, talents and skills, and in some cases may be the launching pad to a creative and fulfilling life.

Now I’m not necessarily talking about questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or even “What college will you be going to?” or even “What will your major be?”

I’m talking about “ARE you going to college next year?”

I’m talking about a gap year.

The concept has been around for awhile and is growing steam and credibility.


I have to admit that when I first heard about it, I totally dismissed it! I was raised in a family where going to college was a given, no questions asked. And if you even thought about skipping a year before you planned on heading off, you were doomed to be a failure in life, with the stigma of being “just” a high-school graduate.

But that was in the stone ages. 😉 Times have certainly changed since then!

Today, there are many career-prep opportunities for our children even while they’re in high school. Many young people develop an entrepreneurial spirit in this environment. In addition, with all the emphasis on tech, learning a hands-on skill such as welding or other building trade may very well prove lucrative in the future, as these occupations are suffering a severe decline in popularity.

So a gap year – if done correctly – can truly be a time when your teen can further explore their options creatively.

How do you do a gap year “correctly”?

Good question! There are 3 things you must think about before you engage in this concept with your teen. Ask yourself, and discuss these with your child:

  1. What are his or her interests? Do they have hobbies or extra-curricular activities that keep them intensely engaged? (I’m not talking about video games here. While there are possible applications in “the real world” for that skill, such as it is, many, many more people dream about than actually find gainful employment.)
  2. What type of personality does your teen have? Gap years are best utilized by driven, motivated self-starters. Teachability and an eager, open mind are essential character traits for someone crafting a successful gap year. If your teen is having trouble finishing up projects in school, shows little effort in discovering solutions to problems or challenges he or she already faces, and displays little or no motivation to experiment or explore on their own, this may not be an option you’d want to encourage them to pursue.
  3. What would their dream “gap year” look like? Let them brainstorm here, and take note of what they’re thinking. Would they like to travel? Where and why and how would they pay for it? Would they like to invent or build something? What and why? What kind of research have they done already in that field? Would they like to work? Where and with whom, doing what? Are they open to being an apprentice to someone, and maintaining accountability with an adult mentor (you or someone else)?

A gap year can be a time when your teen can further explore their career options and their future… Click To Tweet

The ONE Vital Thing to Having a Successful Gap Year

You know the saying ” Those who fail to plan, plan to fail”, and it applies to this experience like no other. Planning out the year to the best degree possible, including outlining a Plan B, goes far to ensure a successful gap year.

Some things you’d plan for are:

  • Goals – Is this gap year being undertaken with an intent to pursue college afterward? Is the intent to discover what your child wants to do in life? Is the desire to find gainful employment with the hope/intent of further study down the road? No judgment here: but be as clear as possible regarding what is hoped for/expected at the end of the year.
  • Activities – Will they be employed? Working on their own? Studying or learning a skill?
  • People involved – Include businesses, mentors, accountability partners
  • Finances – Will there be any costs involved? How will it be paid for?
  • Plan B – What happens if things don’t quite go as expected? What’s the backup plan?
  • Record keeping – How will the experience be documented? Will your student keep a journal? Will you request that any employers or craftsmen with whom they worked write up a recommendation or summary of the experience? How will all this be organized?


The discussion of a gap year came up that day with our son. He had some vague ideas about things that interested him and what he could do, we bantered about some other possibilities, and at some point, he moved on to other topics.

These days, my husband and I are more open about the possibility of our kids undertaking a gap year; I certainly am convinced that college isn’t the route for everyone. Even though there are many other lessons learned then what’s shared in the classroom, certainly different learning styles and career choices may call for other approaches to higher education and preparation for a career.

A gap year can be a wonderfully educational exploration of the world at large, and perhaps a time of discovery of new and untapped interests, talents and skills, and in some cases may be the launching pad to a lifetime of creative success.

A gap year may be the ticket to your child’s future…but as a gateway to their future, don’t skimp on the planning and effort required to make it a successful experience, no matter what standard you’re using!


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Are you and your teen considering a gap year after high school? What are some of his or her plans and dreams for that time? How are you planning to support and encourage them? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…

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Pat is a Yankee city-girl who has been adopted by the sleepy, sunny south. Married for 30 years and the mother of 5, she woke up one day recently to discover she reached the stage of life where she is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5. A coffee lover, the purchase of a coffee shop a few years ago was her personal foray into the small, family-owned business arena.Today, PatAndCandy.com is her outlet for packaging up and sharing the nuggets of wisdom God and life experiences have taught her.
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4 Responses to What your teen MUST do to have a successful gap year

  1. Beth January 26, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    We are planning our cross-country RV adventure for the fall after my daughter’s senior year and strongly encouraging her to join us. Just because she will be 18 and “supposed to be going to college” doesn’t mean she should miss out on the fulfillment of a long-term family dream. After traveling with us, she would like to do an internship at a large church for ministry training. Then, decide if she wants to pursue more education. I am all for life application being the best education someone can get and she has acquired that attitude also.

    I took my “gap year” after 5 semesters of college when I was burned out, had changed my major 3 times and STILL didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up! I would much rather my girls invest the time and energy in their “higher” education once they have a firm, clear vision for their lives.

    • Pat January 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

      Wow, Beth! Honestly, I don’t know HOW we expect kids to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives (!) after high school!! I think your daughter would benefit greatly from doing that with you…and your whole family as well!! How wonderful to be able to work that out 🙂
      I think what’s most important is that our kids know “how” to learn, anyway. Trying to stuff their heads full of knowledge isn’t going to get anybody anywhere. We need to teach them how to use the tools they have to find what they need, when they need it! AND to discern real info from frauds…
      Off my soap-box now!
      Thanks for stopping by…

  2. Lauren Meeks January 25, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    Gap years don’t have to only be right after high school. I did a gap year after college and it was the most amazing year of my life :).

    • Pat January 25, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

      That’s true – technically, it just means a year’s break in one’s educational career, although it’s typically used for that post high-school, non-academic year. I’m not sure if being a Fulbright Scholar counts as a “gap”, tho – LOL I can attest that it certainly WAS an amazing experience for you (and for me, vicariously!)…
      Thanks for stopping by… 🙂
      Lovin’ your blog!

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