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Our 2019 Guide to Gap Year Programs for High School Graduates

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Two young women taking selfie in front of Notre Dame in Paris.

What if … after the crazy race to get into college, your child stopped and took a breath?

What if … instead of going full speed ahead into freshman year, your child took some time to really think about what to do once there?

What if … instead of heading straight into another classroom, your child got to explore the world, build a community, learn a language, discover a skill or dive into a passion?

What if … your child took a gap year?

A gap year is a sabbatical, a change, a time between high school and college when young people get to experience the world through community service or travel or work or studying something they really want to learn – or a combination of all those. A gap year is a chance to experience some of the non-academic things you’ve been trying to drill into your child’s head for the last 18 years. It’s a time of discovery that can help prepare students to be successful once they get to college.

But few of us as parents imagine that version of our children’s futures. Instead, we jump straight ahead to the part where our kid graduates from Harvard and goes on to save the world. It’s so easy in the rush of college applications, essays, high school resumes and financial aid applications to go full-steam ahead down the road most traveled, rather than to take the detour.

So, maybe it’s us – parents – who need to stop and take a breath.

TeenLife’s 2019 Guide to Gap Year Programs can help you do that. It’s a good way to explore what might be an exciting option for your student. And it’s a way to start a conversation with a teenager about choices other than heading straight from high school to college – and for explaining why that might be both a smart and fun thing to do.

Dismiss what might be your stereotype of gaps – rich kids meandering around the world for a year – and think about what a gap program, long or short, might do for your child. You know your student better than anyone, right? Does she need to learn time management? Could he use some self-confidence? Does she worry about making friends or fitting in? Is he burned out from balancing school, community service, sports and a part-time job? Is she wondering if medicine might be her calling?

A gap year is a time to find out all this and more. The gap programs and advisors in our guide offer programs ranging from a few weeks to several months. These programs range in price and geography and emphasis, from politics to community service to travel to pretty much whatever you can imagine.

They help students discover the world, either faraway or close to home, and themselves. Take a look and imagine what could happen if your child spent a year or semester working, volunteering or traveling (or all of the above) and learning the independence, resilience, courage and even time management that will make college so much easier. Research shows that gap years bolster motivation and that students who take gap years are more likely than their peers to graduate from college in four years.

There’s a saying: Prepare the child for the road; don’t prepare the road for the child. We love our children and we want the world to be a good and safe place for them. But sometimes, letting them go is the best way to do that. And sometimes the best way to let them go, is to teach them to buck the crowd.

So, take that deep breath, open our gap year guide, and see the world that awaits your student. Show them that the road less traveled is an exciting route to take.

GET THE GUIDE!

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Marie Schwartz is the CEO and Founder of TeenLife Media. Marie launched TeenLife in 2007 after moving to Boston with her husband and two middle school sons and discovering that there were no information resources for families with older children. Today, TeenLife's award-winning website lists thousands of summer and gap year programs, schools, college admission resources and volunteer opportunities for teens around the world.