After being removed from it for a little bit of time, we can forget how many major stressors and transitions happen in the late teenage years. Beyond just the physical and hormonal growth, there are huge social changes that come with the transition out of childhood then into adolescence and into early adulthood. They are all tremendous leaps in one’s life! No wonder it can feel like we’re all on a roller coaster.
Jane Kristoffy is an educational strategist, educator of over 25 years and mother of teens – so she knows all about what is happening in the schools, in post-secondary, and at home during periods of transitions.
This week on the Gap Year Podcast, I discussed some of the major reasons people choose to take a gap year with Jane. Although everyone can benefit from a gap year, we both see several reasons why people choose to take this time away from formal education:
High Achiever: This person has been a high achiever all through high school and wants to take some time off to avoid being burnt out
Explorer: This person wants to take time to explore and understand the world better before committing to their studies
With Barriers: This person may have recently gone through a loss or is struggling with personal issues – like mental health or anxiety issues – and wants to take time, process, or work on coping techniques before the added stress of post-secondary
Financial need: This person is taking the year to work and save money to put towards their post-secondary
Direction Seeker: This person is looking for what educational or career direction to follow before fully committing to a program
Plan B: This person may have not gotten into their first choice program or realized after a semester they weren’t in the right program. Time to work out a plan B!
There are some additional key indicators to consider when deciding if a gap year is the right fit.
Age: When is your kid’s birthday? Although every kid is unique in the rate at which they mature and grow, sometimes students with later birthday’s haven’t had the same amount of time to reach certain milestones and can seem “younger” than their peers
Maturity/Readiness: Would you consider your kid mature enough to head to college/university next year? As parents we often can see this and, in many cases, students can identify this themselves. If you need more clarity on this point, check out Episode 4 of this podcast.
Lack of clarity: Does your child know who they are? Do they have an idea of what they might like to study or a field they might like to work in? You can take a gap year to get more perspective on both of these things.
Did you know that parents are the primary influencer of their child’s educational and career pathway? The words that parents say and the attitudes that they share deeply impact the decisions that their kids make. It is so important that you have conversations with the young people in your life about their future because you know them better than anyone and you have life experience and perspective to support deciding if they are ready or not.
And it's not just you. Lots of research showing lots of kids aren’t ready to go into post-secondary. There is a strong conversation around students lacking life skills (cooking, laundry, booking doctors appointments, changing a car tire) which leads to a failure to launch into adulthood.
People are quick to point the finger at the “snow plow” or “helicopter” parents. These are parents who, with the best of intentions, have helped their kids be successful in their academics, sports or arts by clearing their other responsibilities (like chores and jobs) to make way for these other types of success.
It is important to note that if this is you, you have not failed your kid – it is simply a different way of parenting. Your role as a parent now is to create the scenario that allows your kids to develop those life skills. The good news is that these “adulting skills” (a term that means they lack knowledge and skills to become adults who are ready to live independently from their parents) can be learned.
A gap year is an ideal time to build these life skills or adulting skills – students can find the time to grow, solve problems without mom and dad but without the added pressure of university or college academics.
They can learn to solve their own problems in a meaningful way by being exposed to new experiences and decisions to make. It is an opportunity to take calculated risks with the safety net of knowing that this is a temporary life situation with the intention of trying, learning and growing.
Taking risks builds resilience and perseverance – two skills that employers and admissions teams are looking to see. Beyond just having stories that will get you a job or into the school of your choice, these skills will lead to a happier, more fulfilled life.
These skills are like muscles. The more you experience challenges and bounce back from them, the more you flex this muscle and the stronger it grows. Taking small risks, failing and learning from small challenges allows you to build up that muscle to be able to cope with larger inevitable failures or challenges in the future.
One of the greatest benefits of a gap year is developing self-efficiency. This is the belief that one is capable and able, that they have the power and skills to be in control of their life. This is reported as being missing from so many young people today. Grace spoke about this being her greatest learning from her gap year in Episode 2.
Here are some of Jane’s top tips for making the most of a gap year:
Have a plan. Make sure to be intentional about how you structure your year. Make the most of your time!
If you need to, spend some time upgrading any of your marks in order to get into the program of your choice.
Don’t underestimate the value of working. By getting a job, you develop so many new skills and you learn more about what you do and don’t like about different jobs and work environments.
Don’t forget the adventure! When will you have this freedom again? Spend some time abroad, become more worldly, gain perspective, and figure out how you fit in to your community.
Don’t forget, if you need additional support, the Gap Year Planning Toolkit will take you step-by-step through the gap year planning process to make sure you don’t miss any important steps.
If you are considering a gap year, be sure not to miss out on our in-person events coming up in April from Coast-to-coast in Canada! Check out all of the dates here.