How to Present a Gap Year to Your Child

For the families of high school juniors or seniors, or for those with young adults out of high school, the stress of college applications and finding jobs is likely here. Every path leading to life after high school seems to be measured by one thing: performance.

Is my GPA high enough?

Am I skilled enough to get the sports scholarship?

Did I do enough community service to stand out?

Watching your child answer these questions is hard, and despite if they show it or not, it’s intimidating for them. With all of these pressures, it’s hard to focus on the ones that matter most: “Who am I?” and to quote Mary Oliver, “What do I want to do with my one wild and precious life?”

You may have a greater understanding of the opportunities that lie ahead for your child, but as a teenager this season can seem like a stream of questions and unknowns. In your discussions about best next steps, have you considered a very important option for gaining life experience? Talk with your child about the opportunity to take a gap year.

Below are five discussion points for you and your child to discuss about the opportunities and benefits that a gap year provides.

1. Become Yourself—Step into Your Own Person

It’s no secret that who we are, the views we hold and the way we spend our time is largely influenced by those around us. To quote Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Gap years provide space away from peers and distractions to become entirely your own person. When we step outside our circles and away from our comfort zones we can discover personality traits, hobbies and more about ourselves we might never have known exists. These experiences also provide us space to observe how our emotions, feelings and reactions play out organically in unfamiliar situations, creating a self-assessment we can grow and learn from. In the business world, this assessment is known as emotional intelligence, and according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, is “one of the top 10 job skills in 2020.”

Photo was taken on a Blue Ridge Mountains Outdoor Educator expedition, courtesy of James Mixon.

2. Discover a Passion

This may—or may not—come as a surprise, but most high school graduates don’t know what they want to do in life. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of college students change their major at least once. Gap years provide time for young adults to explore and discover new interests, activities and passions, allowing them to decide which ones they are stoked on pursuing. It can also serve the purpose of doing the opposite. A willingness to step into new experiences with an open-mind provides us with a solid understanding of the things we don’t like and a sound mind on the ones we do.

Photo was taken on a Rockies to Ecuador Leadership Semester expedition, courtesy of Austin Gibney.

3. Time for Exploration

There isn’t likely another time in life where sailing a 30-foot sailboat in the Bahamas, rigging a raft down the Rio Grande or exploring the culture of India can be as simple as saying yes and packing a bag. Taking advantage of this exploratory season of life doesn’t come around often, at least not without a list of responsibilities you have to take into account.

Photo was taken on a Maine to Bahamas Semester expedition.

4. Gain a Larger Perspective

With the rise of social media, the world has only become that much smaller. Young adults now have access to world events, views and global issues broadcast to them across their mobile devices. The responsibility to hold a view and take a stance now comes earlier in life. Gap year programs allow students to step away from all of that and actually engage across cultural lines, ethnic backgrounds and social ideologies to discover for themselves compassionate bridges of understanding for a world of people unlike themselves.

Photo shows students backpacking on the Oregon to India Rafting & Trekking for Adults expedition, courtesy of Trevor Ellsworth.

5. Stop and Be

One of the greatest benefits of a gap year is the chance to simply be. Be present. Be wild. Be free. Be you. It gives space to stop and reflect. The space to answer those questions, “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do?” Time for silence and observation. Time to sit with personal fears, dreams and discoveries—and feel them—which is often something that’s so hard to find in the midst of school, jobs, friends and everything else.

Photo shows a student filling out their journal on a 30-day Pathfinder expedition, courtesy of Rikki Dunn.

Photo shows a student filling out their journal on a 30-day Pathfinder expedition, courtesy of Rikki Dunn.

So why should your child consider a gap year? A recent Outward Bound alum said it best, “For the first time in my life [I experienced] the space for myself and so many others to be wild. Wildly myself. Wildly independent. Wildly courageous. Wildly heard. Wildly vulnerable.”

Outward Bound offers structured gap year programs with a range of activities and locations. Our Semester and Gap Year programs are tailored for anyone ages 18+ who is looking for a chance to step away from the familiar and into an immersive season of growing and learning. Students focus on hands-on leadership training through these wilderness expeditions both locally and internationally. They master technical outdoor skills, explore exotic places, build confidence and redefine what their role in the world means to them. Courses are offered year round, ranging in length from 30 to 85 days.

Connect with our Gap Year Specialist to find the right program for your child.

About the Author

Charis Nichols is the Content Coordinator for the Outward Bound Services Group. She thrives on three key elements: community, adventure and strategic design. During the warm months she can be found floating down rivers and when it’s cold, hiking in the mountains.