Overview: Taking a gap year is a great idea — listen for reasons why to do so, things to look out for, and gap year ideas!
Homeschoolers are often interested in the idea of taking a gap year, which is a pause between high school and college. We did it with one of our kids — turned out to be TWO years, LOL — and it worked out well for everyone.
In this episode I discuss reasons to take a gap year, things to look out for, and what some of the options are. A gap year can be a great idea!
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Episode 69: Taking a Gap Year after High School
Hi, I’m Ann Karako, and you’re listening to Episode 69 of the It’s Not That Hard to Homeschool High School podcast.
You know, we read about in the old books about how the men used to take a grand tour, right? And that was considered part of their education. And they would take a tutor along with them, and they would go visit all the historical sites and learn and travel and get that travel polish — right? — added onto them so that they could come back and be gentlemen and aristocrats and, you know, take their seat in the house of Lords, or whatever.
Welcome to another episode of It’s Not That Hard to Homeschool High School, the podcast for real people. So you can confidently, competently, and even contentedly provide the high school education that best fits your teen and your family — and live to tell about it. I’m your host, Ann Karako, from annieandeverything.com.
Hello everyone. And welcome back to the podcast. It’s a beautiful sunny day here in rural Missouri. It’s kind of been warm the last couple of days, which is nice considering it’s the middle of November. I hope it is pleasant in your area, too.
Today I want to talk about gap years. It’s something I haven’t actually talked about yet or written about. And I actually had a son who did two gap years. So I thought maybe we should bring it up. It is something that gets talked about often in the Facebook group. There’s lots of different options, lots of different information to consider. So let’s discuss that today.
Last episode we talked about doing a fifth year of high school, and we discussed the pros and cons of that. And so if you are thinking about that, you’ll want to listen to Episode 68. But we talked about one alternative to doing a fifth year is doing a gap year. So I thought it would be a good idea to talk about that now. Let’s go in depth about that today.
We’re going to talk about what a gap year is; we’re going to talk about how do colleges respond to a gap year or react to a gap year; we’re going to talk about when you might want to do one, when it’s a good idea; and we’re going to talk about some options for what to do during your gap year. I don’t anticipate this is going to be as long as other podcast episodes, but you never know because, hey, once I get to talking, anything is possible! But let’s get started.
So what is a gap year?
There’s lots of probably ways to describe it or define it, but I’m just going to say a gap year is a pause between high school and college. So it could be a year; it could be longer than a year, but everybody calls it a gap year. As I said, my son took two years between, so I just like to call it a pause. Doesn’t mean that the kid is not going to college at some point in the future. It just means we’re taking a break, a pause after high school and before college. So yes, your kid has graduated high school but is not starting college. That’s what we’re talking about when we are talking about a gap year.
How will taking a gap year look to colleges?
And one of the things that people are very concerned about is how this will look to colleges. “Well, my kid graduated in 2021, but he doesn’t want to go to college until fall of 2023 — won’t colleges look at his transcript and be like, ‘oh, he didn’t graduate this past May, he graduated earlier than that?'” Well, the short answer is no, they won’t. Colleges don’t care. My goodness, what about all the returning adult students that go to colleges now? What about all of the returning adult programs that are created at colleges now? What about all the military, the vets that are coming back from doing service and wanting to go to college?
Colleges don’t care the date of high school graduation compared to the date that your kid wants to enter college. That is just not an issue for them. Frankly, they don’t even care what your kid was doing in the meantime. They just don’t. So when you are like, “oh, but I think whatever we’re doing in that year must be something that we can show to colleges to show that we weren’t wasting time” — it’s just not a big deal. It’s just not a big deal. I wouldn’t even worry about it. I mean, if you end up doing something that looks like “your kid isn’t wasting time,” then fine, you can definitely tell colleges about that on the application or in the interview process. But don’t feel like you have to do something significant.
My kid did nothing significant. And the colleges he applied to literally did not care. And this was after two years; they just don’t really care.
Obviously you are going to be honest on the transcript; you’re going to be honest about that graduation date. You’re going to be honest on all communication on the application that yeah, they graduated high school on this date. Don’t try to fudge things to make it look like they just recently graduated high school. That’s stupid. It’s not necessary.
Again, colleges have absolutely no problem with there being some kind of gap or pause between high school and college. They just do not. And if you don’t want to believe me — that is fine, I am just little old me — call a few colleges in your area and ask them. They don’t even have to be ones that your kid might want to go to; just call a couple of them and ask the admissions officers there. (Why do we call them officers anyway?) People in the admissions office — ask them if there’s a problem if the kid graduates one year and then doesn’t go to college for a couple of years after that. Just ask them, and you’re going to find out it’s fine.
So then the next question often becomes, well, should we apply during the normal time that he would be applying if he were going straight to college — and then just defer entrance?
So in other words, if your kid is planning on graduating in May of 2022, that means they would be a senior right now; and they would be applying to colleges right now, if they were planning on going to college in fall of 2022. And you’re like, well, maybe we should be doing that anyway — but just tell them, “oh, we don’t want to come to college until fall of 2023.” And I’m going to say no, that that is absolutely not necessary; and in fact, I don’t advise it at all. One, I don’t see any advantage in doing that at all.
Really, the disadvantage becomes that you are committing your kid to something almost two years in advance. Because we’re still in the middle of senior year now, when the applying is happening, and yet the college wouldn’t happen until fall of 2023. So fall of ’21 is when the applying is happening; fall of 2023 is when the kid is finally going to college. You’re committing to something very, very far in advance, when you have no idea what’s going to happen in the interim. I would never advise that.
Also, it’s just confusing to everyone. Colleges are expecting applications right now for people who want to go to college in the following fall, not two falls from now. So I just think that it’s going to be confusing for them, or they’re going to put that application down at the bottom of the pile. There is no advantage to doing this. And so I advise against it. I’ve never tried it; I don’t know anybody who’s tried it.
If it’s about scholarship money — “, let’s get the scholarship money now, but then we’ll defer it ’til the following year” — the scholarship money is still going to be there. Scholarship money is not affected by a gap year either. Scholarship money is usually dependent upon test scores and GPA, high school GPA. And those things don’t change because a gap year occurred. So I would not be concerned about trying to grab hold of some kind of scholarship money, but then deferring entrance to college — not advisable in my humble opinion.
I’m just going to jump in here really quick and say that this episode is sponsored by Taming the Transcript, which is my very own book. It’s my most recent book that came out this past, oh, like May or June. And it is a short but sweet book about how to create your teen’s high school transcript from scratch. Walks you from the beginning of: what is a transcript, what belongs on the transcript, how to gather the data that you need on the transcript, and then how to create the actual document.
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And so I am giving you this advertisement for Taming the Transcript today. Take a look at it on my website; I will link to it in the show notes. You can also find it on Amazon; if you type in Taming the Transcript in the search bar, it should come up. So if you want a paperback copy, that’s the way you have to buy it is through Amazon. But if you want a PDF download — that’s considerably less expensive — you can find that on the website at the link which I will give you. Alrighty. Now back to talking about a gap year.
When to do a gap year
Moving right along, why would you want to do a gap year? In our case, it was because my kid was definitely ready to be done with homeschooling and with high school. He was getting very frustrated at having to sit down and plow through the books. He was working a job 20 to 30 hours a week, and he would rather be doing that, and the books and the academics just became such a chore.
And yet he wasn’t ready to go off to college, perhaps for that very reason. If academics are a chore for your senior — and it’s something more than just senior-itis, which happens to even the best students — but if it’s kind of more in depth than senior-itis, then why would you want to send your kid right off to college? That’s what college is, even moreso, is the whole idea of academics. So it might be a sign that your kid at least needs a gap year, or that college would not be a good fit at all, if they are struggling with the academics.
Not just, oh, I’m trying really hard, but I’m not getting good grades. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about attitude as well. If their attitude is such that they just don’t want to do it — they’d much rather be doing other things, and it’s causing tension and frustration for everyone — then that’s a sign that hey, maybe we should slow things down and maybe we should take a break. At the very least take a break, or not go at all. So we decided to take a break.
Now, one of my older kids, we had sent her straight off to school, even though she was exhibiting some of the same behaviors. And so we had learned from that. She ended up going to one school, then transferring to another school; and we were thinking, oh, the second school will be a better fit, so that will solve these problems — no.
Now, she wasn’t failing out of college by any means. If she had put her mind to it, things would have been fine; but she just… It was not a good fit for her; it just wasn’t a good fit. And so she came home after two years, not having finished college. We’ve all been super much happier ever since.
And we saw some of these same behaviors in my son. And so we’re like, eh, we know this already. We’re not going straight to college with this one. We’ve learned this one the hard way already. Let’s not make that same mistake again. And that’s the benefit of this podcast, right? You can learn from my experience without having to pay the big bucks for two years of college, that then just didn’t end up working out.
So that was what it was in our case, was dislike of academics that had gotten very strong, and the desire to do something else instead. In his case, he went to work full-time at the same job that he had been working part-time. There wasn’t anything else going on, no big fancy internship or some career-type job that he went into. It was just fast food. And he just started working full-time and worked full-time at that same fast food restaurant for two full years. It was very necessary time for him to grow and mature.
And so that can be one of the big reasons to do a gap year, is it’s time to be done with high school. And again, in that last episode, we talked about would you want to, in that case, stretch high school out to a fifth year? In our case, that would have just compounded all of these problems. So it was time to be done with high school. It wasn’t time to move on to college. Let’s just work for awhile in the meantime, take a break, have a chance to de-stress, have a chance to think things through. And when we have a plan, then we can move forward. So yeah, to gain maturity is a great reason to take a gap year or two.
To earn money — maybe your kid would technically be ready for college, but the money’s not there to go. So then yeah, take some time, earn some money and then go.
De-stressing — I kind of brought that up already. Sometimes as homeschoolers we can burn out. And so sometimes it’s a good idea to just step away from the schooling and take some time to de-stress. What about a medical situation or a life circumstance? Are you moving across the country? Maybe it’s a good time to put off college. Or your kid is getting over a big illness or a car accident or some other such thing; or maybe somebody in your family is, and you kind of need the kid around to help out — any of these reasons would be good enough reasons to take a gap year.
What about to travel? This is a big reason that some think is the only reason to take a gap year.
You know, we read about in the old books about how the men used to take a grand tour, right? And that was considered part of their education. And they would take a tutor along with them, and they would go visit all the historical sites and learn and travel and get that travel polish right added onto them so that they could come back and be gentlemen and aristocrats and take their seat in the house of Lords, or whatever — or I guess they would come back and then go to Oxford or Cambridge or what have you. So it was not unheard of. And lots of people think that that’s a really great reason to take a gap year; and it would be totally fun, wouldn’t it? It’s not what we did, but you totally could do that.
Or if your kid doesn’t know what they want to do yet; that was also true in our situation — no idea what he wanted his career to be. And so obviously, well maybe not obviously — some people do send their kids to college even though they haven’t chosen a major yet. I’ve never seen the practical sense in that. When you send your kid to college when they don’t know what they want to major in, what happens if what they decide to major in isn’t offered at the college that they’re at? So now they’ve got to go somewhere else.
And yeah, people talk about getting the gen eds out of the way. Well, you can do that at the community college for a lot less money. And I don’t think that just having the experience of being in college is reason enough to spend all that money to send them to college. But again, that’s coming from my perspective. So if you have that kind of money and your kid wants to do that, and it’s not a big deal to you that they don’t have a major yet, then go for it.
But for most of us, that is an issue. And so I’m not going to send one of my kids to school if they don’t know what they want to major in and feel fairly confident that this is something that they are interested in. In our case, it took two years to come up with an idea of, “yeah, I like this idea; I would like to pursue this idea.” And then we started applying to colleges that had a program for that idea.
In short, really, there is no stupid reason to take a gap year or two after high school, since we’ve already talked about it doesn’t hurt their chances to get into college or to get scholarships for college. They are still considered a freshman, as long as they don’t have too many college credits under their belt. And that would be the case whether they took a gap year or not, because it would depend on if they were taking classes for dual enrollment in high school. So it doesn’t affect how they get into college.
So therefore there’s no reason that would be a foolish reason to take a gap year. Any reason is fine. There’s no reason not to take a gap year — except for the very good reason that your kid is ready to go to college, and they know what they want to major in, and you can afford where they want to go to, and everything’s lining up well for that to happen. Then by all means, send them to college. But if not, a gap year or two is a totally great possibility.
Gap year ideas
And then what are they going to do during that time? We’ve already pretty much covered that, but I’ll kind of reiterate. Yea, work at a job; find some kind of internship, if that’s what you think is important. Travel.
There are also gap year programs that you can invest a lot of money in that are all planned out, that you can get your kid into. And I’m pretty sure they usually involve travel or some kind of intense experience. And you can research those and get your kid into one of those and pay the money and send your kid off to do that thing. And that would be really cool. That’s not what we did, but it would be really cool.
Really, for a gap year, your kid can do whatever they want to do, whatever you and they agree on doing. If they’re going to live in your home, it makes sense that you would have some kind of say in what they’re spending their time on.
As long as my kids are working full time and being responsible about paying for their car that gets them back and forth to work, and putting gas in their car and paying for their own expenses — such as any extra food that they want to have around the house, or when they’re going to McDonald’s to buy their food or going out to eat or out with friends — those are all their expenses, buying their own clothes. As long as they’re doing those things, we have allowed them to live at home during their early adult years until they were ready to move out.
And so, yeah, my son worked for two years. Then he went to a junior college for two years. He’s back at home now again, working full-time, taking another break. He might end up going to a four year college eventually; we don’t know yet. Right now it’s just, again, time to reconsider, to think things through. And he’s welcome to stay here, you know, within reason for as long as he wants, given that he is being responsible to have a job, to keep a job, and to pay for all of his own expenses with the money that he earns from the job.
Now, granted, if he gets over 25 and we’re still in this same kind of holding pattern, then we might have something to say about that. But none of my kids waited until 25 to move out of the house, and I don’t anticipate he will either.
So is there anything else to say about a gap year? I don’t think so. But again, a gap year is any pause after high school, before college. And then we now know that colleges don’t care; they literally do not care that there is that pause, as long as you are honest on all of your communication about it.
You know that whatever your kid does in the gap year can become great fodder for college application essays and interviews. And even if it is just a job at a fast food restaurant. My son did get an interview for a scholarship when he was ready to go to junior college, and that’s what they talked about. And because he had worked at this fast food restaurant for two years, he had the skills to do well in the interview, which he might not have had going straight into an interview like that from high school. So again, just a good fit for what would work best for him. And we’re all happy with how it worked out.
And then, again, there’s multiple reasons to do a gap year, and there’s so many options about what to do during that time. When all is said and done, y’all, I’ll say it again: whatever is best for your teen and your family is what you can decide. If they’ve graduated from high school, then homeschool law doesn’t come into play at all; you’ve already fulfilled that. So now it’s just a matter of a lot of dialoguing and a lot of research and time and patience to decide what comes next. And that’s something only you can decide with your kid, and that’s how that goes down.
Be patient though, to wait for the best opportunity; don’t be so anxious to push forward that you force things where they are not a good fit. And whatever the Joneses are doing down the street with their teen — that’s not something you need to look to either. Every family is different. Every teen is different. I know you know this by now.
Sometimes it seems like each and every stage, we keep looking around us to see what others are doing. And it is definitely helpful to hear the experiences of other people. But when all is said and done, whatever’s going to help the relationships within your family is what’s going to be best. And what is going to meet the needs of your teen is what’s going to help those relationships.
So it’s all one big circle. My husband makes fun of me for that. I like to say that — “it’s all one big circle.” Anyway.
This has been great, y’all, as always; I hope you have a wonderful day doing whatever you’re going to do today. And I’ll be back in December; we’ll only have one podcast episode in December, because then I’m going to take a break for the holidays. But I’ll see you first Friday in December.
Until then, remember it’s not always easy to homeschool high school, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.