What is a gap year and what if your teen wants to take one

Gap year student on holiday

Is your teen thinking about taking a gap year? Discover the pros and cons of your teen taking a gap year here and how to help them plan it.

So, your teen wants to take a gap year. Delaying university to work or travel, when done right, can be a great way for them to gain some independence, explore the world, clarify what they want to study, get work experience and maybe even save some money.

After 12 years of school, it’s actually probably good for them to take a break, try something new and return to study refreshed and enthusiastic.

However, as a parent, it’s not surprising if you have a few concerns about your teen taking a gap year. Here’s how to process your teen wanting to take a study gap and help them plan a gap year that will benefit them in the long run.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a period of time between high school and university during which a young person takes a break from academic or career pursuits. During this time they might explore personal interests, gain work experience, travel or volunteer – anything that encourages their personal growth and development.

A gap year student can take off a few months to a year or even more, depending on your teen’s goals and plans. A gap year offers an opportunity for young adults to gain new perspectives, skills and life experience before committing to a particular career or academic path.

How to talk to your teen about gap year

First and foremost, you need to communicate with your teen about their desire to take a gap year. Get them to explain their reasons for wanting to take a gap year and listen to them with an open mind.

Young adults often feel pressured to pursue higher education or enter the workforce immediately after graduating from high school. Taking a gap year before university can provide them with an opportunity to step back and evaluate their goals and interests before diving headfirst into the next phase of their lives.

Once you have discussed the pros and cons of a gap year with your teen, it is time to start making plans. A good gap year is more than a break between high school and uni, so encourage them to create a list of things they want to do and goals they want to achieve during their gap year that would benefit them. This list can include things like travel, volunteering, internships, or learning a new skill.

Discuss with your teen what they can do to achieve these goals and help them create a budget and plan of how to finance their gap year.

Gap year volunteer group

Planning a gap year thoroughly

Taking a gap year before university does not mean putting their education or career on hold indefinitely. Encourage your teen to commit to a date to start university or take up an apprenticeship, internship or job to help them keep on track for their long-term goals. It can be helpful to discuss how their gap year experiences can translate into their future career or educational goals.

It is also important to consider how your teens' gap year can impact their admission to university. At Torrens University, we welcome students who have taken a gap year and recognise the valuable skills and experiences people can gain during that time. That’s why we consider creative portfolios for entry into our Design and Creative Technology degrees and may conduct student interviews for entry into other courses.

The common gap year myths

There’s a mistaken belief about gap years that they are a waste of time and money. However, the reality is that a study gap can be a valuable investment in your teen's future.

During a gap year, young adults can gain valuable life skills and experiences that can be beneficial when they return to their studies or enter the workforce. For example, travelling, volunteering or interning abroad can provide young adults with valuable cultural immersion and language skills, which can be a valuable asset in today's global economy.

Another mistaken belief is that it will distract students from going to university. In fact, taking a year off can help to clarify their goals. This means when they do enrol, they’re enrolling in a course they’re more certain about, which means they’re more likely to succeed. After all, asking a recently 18-year-old to commit to a long-term educational and career path is a big ask – giving them a year off to think about it can only help.

Some people also think that gap years are only for affluent families. While it is true that gap years can be expensive (like if your teen plans to travel Europe the whole time), there are many ways to keep costs down such as volunteering or working abroad, interstate or closer to home.

Consider working holiday visas, Au pair programs or summer camp jobs, as well as lower-cost options such as staying with extended family or getting a job. You may even find your teen is able to save some money during the year.

We hope this has put your mind at ease about your teen wanting to take a gap year.

Help them make the right decisions and make the most of their time by listening and supporting their gap year goals.

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