A gap year opens up students to new opportunities before college.

After reading my previous post you now know more about gap years and are ready to learn what’s involved in planning one.

Getting started Before you and your teen decide this is a viable option, talk about what they hope to get out of this year “off” and how they see it helping them when they go to college the following year.

Italy4Discuss possible ways to structure the time. A gap year can be broken up into more than one experience. For example, your teen can take a two-week trip abroad, then do an eight-week paid or unpaid internship, 12 weeks of paid work and another eight weeks of volunteering. Or they can use the whole year to work and save money for college.

Talk with your student’s guidance counselor about any gap year programs they’d recommend and any alumni who’ve taken a gap year who can talk to your teen about the experience.

Determine whether a formal program or one your student creates works best.

If your student plans to defer their college acceptance to take a gap year, they should confirm their college’s policy with the admissions office, including any impact on their financial aid package. They can ask about earning credits if their gap year program offers them. Some colleges also have their own programs. 

Planning for a gap year Just like college, how your student spends their gap year depends on their finances. Traveling is a popular option for gap year students, but an extended trip may not fit the budget. Formal programs usually have fees, although some offer scholarships. If there is an option to earn college credit, check if this counts as a qualified expenditure for your 529 college savings plan.

Formal gap year programs usually require a completed application, some are rolling and others have a set deadline. Learn what information your teen will need to apply and by when.

If your student wants to use the year to explore career choices, talk about what they’re interested in. Next, figure out if you know anyone currently working in this field whom your student can shadow or intern with or who can serve as a mentor. Network and ask friends, relatives, coworkers and the school guidance counselor if they know of anyone.

ParasailingWorking full-time to save money for college will be more satisfying if your teen gets a job that’s related to a field they’re interested in. Also, talk about their building in some time to take a cheap vacation, hang with friends and siblings home from college or join the family on a trip. They deserve a break from work, too.

Formal programs save you and your teen from organizing a trip, project, etc. Before your student signs up for any program, make sure you’ve talked to a representative and spoken with former participants to ensure the program is legitimate and meets your student’s goals.

Determine how your teen wants to schedule their gap year. Do they want to follow an academic-style calendar so that they can be around when everyone’s home for college breaks? Or do they prefer to be out and about for as long as possible?

Finding gap year programs Begin with anyone you know whose teen took a gap year. They can tell you how their family found and chose a program. Check with the college your student was accepted to and see if they recommend any programs. Here are some sites that list information on various gap year programs [Note: I have no affiliation with any of these programs and this list is informational only, not an endorsement] :

Gap Year Association

American Gap Association

Projects Abroad

Go Abroad

Teen Life

IMG_0750Setting up/creating an informal program Though planning and organizing a gap year requires more work for you and your teen, it allows for more flexibility. Your teen can also participate in a formal program for part of the year and then make their own for the rest.

  • Volunteer programs: check with local 501c3 organizations in your area, as well as religious institutions, hospitals, etc. that align with your teen’s interests.
  • Jobs and Internships: Your teen can take a job at the local supermarket, retailer or fast food chain. But if their interests lie elsewhere, a better choice would be at a computer or video game store, restaurant, local caterer, gym, physical therapy facility, engineering firm or architect to learn more about potential careers as they make money. Ask your electrician, plumber, mechanic, contractor, landscaper doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, orthodontist, too if they’d hire your teen or at least let them shadow or intern, paid or unpaid.
  • Research: Help your teen explore potential careers and majors through introductory courses at your local community college. Share books, television programs, webinars, websites, YouTube videos, online articles, etc. in their areas of interest.
  • Travel: Take a family vacation to someplace new this year that fits your budget. Check out travel programs for teens like EF Tours. If family or friends invite your teen on a vacation, let them go, especially if you can’t afford to take a trip or time off from work.

A gap year can be anything your teen wants it to be, but help them make the most of their time off by giving it some structure, even if that involves multiple experiences.

Share your advice on helping your teen plan a gap year in the comments section below.