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Gap Years and Other Ideas For Teens Unsure About College

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Young woman asleep on couch with book over her head.

Not every student is excited about going to college.

Sometimes they need a little push; and sometimes college just isn’t in their headlights. The simple truth is: The four-year college plan isn’t for everyone. For some young adults, the thought of college terrifies them. If they have struggled in school, they know college is going to be more academically challenging. Other students are simply burned out and need a break. But, with all the talk about college during high school, other options are rarely discussed.

What if your student simply won’t consider college?

My son never saw himself in college. He was an average student but from the time he entered high school, he had military aspirations. He joined the Naval Junior ROTC program and as a senior, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines. It was a good decision for him at the time, even though I protested strongly because I wanted him to go to college.

If your student seems disinterested in college, there are other options to consider. For example, a gap year might be in order. During a gap year or semester, students can work at an internship, learn a trade, or find a volunteer opportunity, at home or abroad. Another bold initiative would be to become an entrepreneur – start a business or invent a product to sell.

Your student might opt to work at a full-time job while researching career opportunities. There’s no better way to spark interest in a career path than to work in it for a bit. A career interest could spur them to research training opportunities or even consider college later down the road.

GET OUR LATEST GAP YEAR GUIDE!

The bottom line: College is not always the right choice for every student. And, as I said, that’s perfectly acceptable. The important thing is that you know your child. Don’t push if you sense strong resistance. Discuss options and make a plan. Your student’s path to college may take a few years and a few detours. Many students who take a minimum-wage job for a year will realize that furthering their education in today’s job market is certainly a worthy goal.

If you determine your student is overwhelmed about college and craves some help and guidance, discuss a few alternatives to taking a traditional four-year college route.

Community college

Community colleges aren’t just training grounds for technical careers, they are also the first stop for about 4 in 10 of college-bound high school graduates. Graduating seniors make that choice for several reasons: cost, academic preparation, and the freedom to live at home.

The military

While the military is not for everyone, it is a viable option for many students. Not only will your student learn discipline, organization and teamwork, but they will also gain job experience. The military has numerous career options to choose from that will transition into the workforce after the term of service is over. An added benefit is the education benefit veterans receive, allowing your student to attend college using government funding.

Trade or technical school or apprenticeship

The trades and/or apprenticeships are often overlooked as a path after high school. Pursuing a trade ensures job security and future earning potential. You can go to a specific career school such as a culinary institute, or you can work with a professional learning their trade. Another option would be to consider a college that focuses not only on academics but also on hands-on education. These days, technical schools are focused on areas as diverse as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), digital arts and other careers that are in demand. One such college is Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Internships

Students can also work at paid or unpaid internships after high school. Internships will help them discover their interests and gain insight into various careers and what training or education is required. Check with your high school guidance counselor to see if this is a viable alternative or if your child needs some association with an educational institution, such as a community college, to qualify for internships.

A gap year

More and more students are considering gap years or semesters after high school. They use the time to explore career options, travel and gain cultural experience, volunteer for a year in a community service job at home or abroad, or work with the goal of saving money for college. There are many gap year programs designed for students to work and sometimes study abroad at the same time. The majority of students who take gap years are glad for the much-needed break from academics and are ready for college.

Curious about what a gap year might look like? Here are some gap programs popular with our readers. You can find many more at www.TeenLife.com.

American University Gap Program

ARCC Gap Programs

CIEE Gap Year Abroad in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Gap Year at Soar

Eastman Music Immersion Gap Year

Gap Year at the School of The New York Times

High Mountain Institute

Raleigh International

Thinking Beyond Borders

Year On Gap Program