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What parents need to know about the gap year

Carolyn Rahaman is a professional SSAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Master's degree in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.

Rather than starting college in the fall immediately following their high school graduation in the spring, some students choose to take a gap year. This break in time can potentially lead to an improvement in their decision-making and leadership skills, as well as their maturity. Nevertheless, like most decisions, there are both positives and negatives to consider.

There are successful ways to spend a gap year and common mistakes to avoid. If your child is interested in taking a gap year, ensure she educates herself on how to make the most of this experience, and that you do, too.

The gap year can prominently feature educational opportunities

Even though your student will not be in school, a gap year is not necessarily a gap in your child's education. Instead, it is an opportunity to learn outside of a standard, formal environment. Many young adults pursue an internship or humanitarian work during their gap year, or they study abroad. Some students work to save money for college. In order for your child to gain the benefits of a gap year, she needs to be active and engaged in her education. Discuss with your student how she plans to take advantage of these opportunities.

The gap year can promote self-discovery

The gap year is also a time for introspection and self-improvement. As young adults gain more independence, they must develop a sense of who they are when separated from their parents. Such discovery means your child will begin college with confidence. Furthermore, many people use their gap year to learn more about the profession they wish to pursue. With hands-on experience, your child can confirm that this is what she truly wishes to do with her life, or that she was wrong and this occupation is not for her. This early investigative period can ultimately save money as well; your student will not need to remain in school for five years (rather than four) to complete a new major, for instance.

The gap year can teach fiscal responsibility

There are a number of programs that combine hands-on work experience with educational opportunities, stipends and community involvement. Programs like AmeriCorps can allow your child to give back to her community while receiving modest monetary benefits. Study abroad opportunities often carry additional costs, but one common format for the gap year is to work for several months while saving money, then travel for the remainder of the year. Search for great programs at gap year fairs that will help you teach your child important financial lessons.

The gap year can complicate the college application process, so plan ahead

No matter what, encourage your student to still apply to college in her senior year. Then, if she chooses to take a gap year, she can simply defer her admission rather than applying toward the end or middle of her gap year. High schools often strive to support the college application process, and they offer assistance with essays, standardized tests and letters of recommendation. Furthermore, if your child travels out of the country during her gap year, campus visits, interviews and submitting application materials may be more difficult. When in doubt, be proactive.

All in all, both you and your child must do research on this endeavor. Talk to your student about your expectations, as well as what she hopes to gain from a gap year, and then do what you can to support her in having a rewarding year!

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/360/Getty Images
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