Some high school students have a very clear passion and idea about what they want to study and where after school, others have no clue, and many are somewhere in between. Some go straight to college from school, others need to take a gap year. This is the term used to describe a year between finishing high school and starting college, typically spent exploring learning experiences, community service opportunities, and travel.
Over 20 years of working with 15 to 21-year-olds has taught me that most students end up studying exactly what they should be studying at exactly the right college when they leave school. But some just aren’t ready to make a confident choice and need a bit longer to figure this out. That’s why a gap year might be the answer.
Typically, a gap year is an opportunity for a student to broaden their learning through a range of activities that may enhance their practical, intellectual, and personal growth. It is most definitely not a year when a student takes a year off. For many, a well-planned and goal-orientated year can be some of the most intense learning that a student can gain independently of their school at a key time in their personal growth.
There are a number of reasons why a gap year may be something to consider for internationally mobile students:
Sometimes families relocate between countries at the same time their child goes to college. For some families, it is important that they relocate as a family so that everyone has a sense of home in the new family location. Or maybe there is just too much going on with an international family move that a family does not have the capacity to successfully support a healthy transition to college too.
Some students have to suddenly leave a country location, e.g., a sudden evacuation or instant termination of a contract during their school life, and may need to return to a former home to gain a proper closure.
Language and Culture
Some may have loved learning a new language or culture in a previous home country that they want to return to continue that learning.
Sometimes our internationally mobile kids have not had the opportunity to have a paid part-time job and need this invaluable life skill before going to college. Also, some may need work experience or an internship to demonstrate academic passion and commitment for a college application.
For many seniors, the final year of school can be incredibly stressful so some decide to focus their energies on their academic studies and leave college applications and entrance test preparation for a gap year.
Logistically some families who want to visit colleges in advance of their child applying. If they do not have the time to do so, they may need some extra time to do this.
Maybe during the holidays before their final year of school, a child has no clue what they want to study or where and it can end up being a highly pressured holiday trying to figure it out! This level of pressure may not be good for a child when they need to carefully balance quality relaxation and family and friend time with some schoolwork so they are refreshed and ready for their final year of school rather than exhausted, stressed, and feeling the pressure from everyone around them.
Many mobile kids may need the time to build stronger connections with grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins, which will serve as invaluable intergenerational support in the future.
Many college applications require kids to demonstrate their academic passion, service, and leadership skills and a gap year can give kids more time to develop these traits and may be more highly regarded in a college application because kids have developed them independently of school.
For some college applications, certain grades are required for entry. It can help some kids if they wait until they have their International Baccalaureate (IB) or A Levels results. For example, if they slightly miss the grades required, they may have the option to re-sit an IB or A level during a gap year before they apply to college.
Navigating the Pandemic
Finally, some families feel they need a little more time navigating life with a global pandemic before they feel comfortable sending their kids overseas to college.
Sometimes our kids, and us as parents, feel incredible pressure to follow the conventional route of going directly from school to college. Trust that if a conventional route to college is not the best fit for your child, then clear communication with the person responsible for your child’s college applications at school and a carefully thought-through, alternative plan can help your child to find a path that may be better suited to helping them thrive at college.
If you haven’t considered the benefits of a gap year and want to know more, please feel free to reach out to me for guidance.
Natasha Winnard has come across many amazing young people in more than 20 years as an international educator, guidance and college counselor, and mentor in schools in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Natasha Winnard Consultancy provides holistic, personalized guidance for young people and their families looking for support in the world of international education.