I will never regret my college degree. Going to college was a goal I achieved on my own and was a light at the end of the tunnel to get away from a toxic family after high school graduation. But in terms of what I wanted out of college? I didn’t have a fucking clue.
I followed the script. I worked and studied hard. I got the loans, grants, and grades I needed to graduate in four years. I left a great university with a horticulture degree I have never applied to my professional work life. My diploma is a very expensive reminder that it took me four years to finally realize I didn’t want to be a horticulturist. My degree gives me credentials, but the most valuable pieces of my college years could have been achieved without the college part.
Of course, I will support my kids’ desires to go to college (or not go), but truthfully I hope they take a gap year to explore their options before racing to the next part of the script.
My kids are too young to think about college but not too young for many experts to tell me I need to start saving for it now. Higher education is wicked expensive, but I don’t feel an obligation to save for my kids’ college. I value education, but I paid my way through school without financial help from my family. If my kids want to go to college, I will help them find a way, but walking onto a campus without bearing the brunt of tuition won’t be one of them.
Taking a year after high school will allow my kids to work and earn the money they need to invest in their future with college or a trade school. Working will also give them an appreciation for the day-to-day grind of having a job. Exploring several jobs or an internship in the field they are interested in studying will confirm their love of it or relieve them from jumping into something that isn’t a good fit at all. College is too damn expensive to rush into it without a strong sense of purpose behind the first semester of selected classes.
Teenagers can get a bad rap for being video-gaming, social-media-addicted, “OK Boomer” slinging loafs, but the truth is that the teenagers I know are thoughtful, kind, and under too much pressure to do and say the right thing all of the time. Freshmen are already thinking about where they want to apply to college and what field they want to spend 4-8 years studying. Our kids can’t drive or vote, but they know exactly where they should be in 10 years? That’s bullshit.
Suicide rates for U.S. teens and young adults ages 15-24 are the highest on record and a JAMA study reported that there was a 21% rise in boys 15-19 who died by suicide in 2017. Reasons are varied but there is no denying that there is a mental health crisis in America coupled by a shortage of mental health providers.
There is so much emphasis placed on high schoolers to be better, smarter, and faster than their peers. I will not allow higher education to be costly to my children’s already at risk mental health. There is no shame in taking a year to relax and regroup. We can’t expect our kids to be successful if the weight of what they are carrying is too much.
I spent hundreds of hours in therapy while I was in college. I had a lot of unraveling to do and while I am thankful for the work I did on myself, it took away from my college experience. I was hurting, my grades suffered, and I felt a constant sense of urgency and need for perfection. I wasn’t well, but I pushed myself to graduate.
I am not upset about where my life has taken me, but I wish I would have had known I had the option to still get away without going to college immediately after high school. As I consider getting my master’s degree 20 years after receiving my bachelor’s, I know it has been age and hands-on life experience that has led me here.
I want my kids to experience life before setting themselves up for a life that may not be what is best for them.
A gap year would allow my kids to travel, learn new languages, and gain a greater appreciation for one or many new cultures. Diversifying their experiences will open their minds and hearts to views different than their own. Learning about others teaches us a lot about ourselves and creates skills important in the work place. Traveling and working in different parts of the U.S. gives kids the chance to see where they may want to spend their college years or give them a feel for where they may want to settle down after college. Sometimes job opportunities take us to the cities we live, but the love of a location can be enough to allow us to find or create the job that fulfills us.
Life is too short to not explore and live to the fullest. College will always be an option, but traveling and scratching the wanderlust itch isn’t.
My kids will know there are other paths than the one that leads them directly from high school to college. I have no intention of letting my kids be lazy, however. A gap year doesn’t mean a lack of responsibilities; it means they are learning how to manage real world responsibilities when the stakes are not so expensive and uncertain. A year off after high school will allow my kids the time to pursue many options and make tough decisions before focusing on a career. A gap year gives many students a stronger sense of purpose and grounding when they walk onto a college campus.