Miss Moe (a rising high school freshman) just asked me…. Is there anything wrong with a gap year? My answer to her is – ‘no, not if you have a plan on what to do with your gap year, and it’s something that will enrich your life’. Perhaps she needs to take a breath between high school and college. I don’t know exactly why she asked the question, she can be a ‘still waters run deep’ kind of person… Maybe, she’d like to take a dream trip backpacking through Europe, enroll in an intensive Spanish program in Costa Rica, try her hand at being a dancer on Broadway, wander the National Parks in the U.S., or WWOOF through Canada – honestly, I don’t know. And, it’s likely to change about 1,000 times before she ultimately decides what she’ll do. I know she asked because my guidance, approval, and opinion matters more than most parents of teenagers think. There’s likely a nagging anxiety-filled voice chattering loudly in her head about getting behind in education, career, and ultimately – her life.
Here’s a not so big secret that I’ve shared with her as she starts thinking about her options…. Those first couple of years of college everyone is learning the same general education courses. Whether she’s testing out of classes, enrolled at a junior college, or going to an Ivy League – English 101 will be teaching the same concepts. She doesn’t have to lag behind classmates while exploring what it is that makes her tick. If she wants to pursue a dream that makes the rigors of the traditional academic environment (set schedules) a stressful proposition, there is another way.
I’ve encouraged her to consider testing out of some of the classes for college. Is it easier to test out of classes? No. It’s more convenient, but not easier. With no due dates imposed by an outside authoritative source – she’ll need to have a fair amount of self-drive to be successful. Testing out takes the same level of effort as enrolling and passing that class. Accredited institutions accept these courses in lieu of taking the class. If it isn’t easier than why? To avoid location restrictions, some economic stress, and banter between classmates and professors. I want her to find what ignites her fire and chase it relentlessly, but not at the expense of her education. Education is important and opens a lot of doors to opportunities she’ll never have otherwise.
She only lives once, and I want her to follow her dreams. So whether she needs to take that breath between years of traditional education, or wants to cautiously step into the higher academia waters I’ll support it. What is a more interesting way to spend a life? Within the walls of a respected institution exploring theoretical concepts or a in the world exploring a bit on your own? There is not a right answer to this question, and I’m not in a position to answer it for anyone else (including Miss Moe). What I do want to encourage her to do is to pursue both her education and her dreams.
Either way, I will not get too excited or worry just yet. Four years is a long time for her to decide which way her arrow points (especially for a teenager). I only want to be there to support her as she follows her own life’s journey.