Talking Gap Year Pros & Cons With Your Family

By Lauren Patetta

The pressure to jump right into college after high school can be pretty intense, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right move for you. You may want to take a year to work, save money, volunteer, travel, take care of your mental or physical health, or take advantage of an opportunity you won’t have later.

If you’re considering a gap year but hesitant to bring it up to your parents or caregivers, especially if they are concerned about how you will go to college after a gap year, here are tips to make the conversation easier.

Work on a Plan

Your caregivers may be more open to you taking a gap year if you have a strong reason to do so. It’s OK if you don’t have everything figured out yet, but start putting together a plan. Make an outline of why you want to start college at a later point, what you might do in the meantime, and what the benefits could be. 

For example, you might share that you want some time to figure out your career path, that you plan to find a part-time job in the meantime and, thus, will go into college with a clearer vision of the future and additional money you can put toward tuition costs.

Some resources that might help you learn more about gap years and start putting together a plan are:

  • Specific program websites, particularly if they have statements from previous applicants 
  • Articles written by students who took a gap year 
  • Blog posts on college websites, particularly schools you may be interested in applying to later 
  • News stories from trusted sources 
  • The Gap Year Association website, which can help connect young adults to opportunities
  • Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs” by Joseph O’Shea, for advice on going abroad for your gap year

Pick a Time and Place

Once you have started making a plan, it’s time to talk to your parents or caregivers. Think about previous conversations that have gone well. Is there a setting where your parents feel more relaxed and open? Is there a time of the week or day that works better for them? 

You can also give them a heads-up about the conversation, so they aren’t caught off guard. You might say something like, “I’ve been thinking about my plans for next year and would like to discuss some ideas with you.”

Assume Good Intentions

Go into the conversation with your parents or caregivers assuming that it will go well and they want the best for you. When you believe in the value of your plans and believe that your caregivers will be receptive to your idea, it’s likely to boost your courage and set the tone for a good conversation.

Prepare for Your Family’s Reaction

Most parents and caregivers want what is best for their children, but it’s possible their idea of what is best is different from yours. A gap year might make your parents nervous. They may worry it will hurt your chances of getting into college later,  impact your ability to get a job in your chosen field, or mean you are less likely to go to college. Or they simply may not see the benefit a gap year has to offer. 

Some questions or concerns your parents may have: 

  • What will you do with the time? 
  • If you’re planning on traveling, how will you fund it? 
  • Do you have a plan for finding a job or internship? 
  • Will this affect your transition to college? 
  • What benefit are you getting out of this experience? 
  • How will you manage your time so the year doesn’t pass by without achieving your goals?

It’s OK if you don’t have answers to all of these questions. You might ask your parents to think through the questions with you, or do some research and come back to them with more information.

Listen Before You Respond

Everyone wants to feel heard in a conversation. It’s just as important for your parents to feel understood and listened to as it is for you to feel this when you talk to them.  So, be prepared to let your parents share their ideas, opinions, and viewpoints.

Show them that you are actively listening to them. You might nod your head or take notes so you can respond later, instead of interrupting. The more you listen, the more they will feel like you are making a mature, well-thought-out decision for your gap year.

Share Your Point of View

If you find that your parents are unsure or unreceptive to your taking a gap year,  you might try:

  • Emphasizing the work and thought you’ve put into this decision. Remind your parents that you have given a lot of thought to this decision, and that you’ve tried to consider all your options.
  • Reframing the issue. Instead of focusing on why a gap year might not work, try to bring the conversation back to the positive elements. 
  • Involving other family members or a trusted third party. Maybe you have an older sibling who can advocate for you, or a therapist who’s willing to help with this conversation. Getting an outside perspective may help your parents consider other viewpoints.   
  • Compromising. Your parents may be willing to meet you in the middle on certain things. For example, they might prefer that you travel for half of the gap year and spend the other half working a part-time job, rather than traveling for the majority of it.
  • Taking a deep breath. During tough family conversations, taking a deep breath might help you feel more calm and in control of your feelings and reactions.
  • Taking a break. As you talk about the possibility of taking a gap year, it’s important to protect your goal and remain as calm and positive as you can. If tensions are running high or you’re just starting to feel drained, it’s OK to tell your parents that you need to take a break and return to the conversation later. This might also give your parents some time to consider everything you’ve shared and open themselves up to the idea.

It’s important to advocate for yourself and your needs so you can make the choice that’s best for you and your future. Despite how it may feel, there’s no set timeline in which you must live your life. If a gap year is the right fit for you, don’t be afraid to pursue it.

For more tips and advice check out how to have tough family conversations

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