If you are a new high school graduate, congratulations! You have reached a significant milestone. You’ve put in some tough years, and you have a good reason to pat yourself on the back, eat your graduation party cake, and take a well-deserved break. If you are a new high school graduate who has decided to defer college next fall to take a gap year, double congratulations! You had to navigate a mountain of options and pick through a haystack of information to decide what path is best for you. You are taking some major steps toward your future, and you have a good reason to be proud of yourself and incredibly excited for the adventure you’ve planned. If you are a new high school graduate with gap year plans for the fall and you haven’t told your parents about the decision yet, then we’ve got to talk. You are going to need some advice.
If you haven’t discussed your plans with your parents yet, I’m guessing that they are happily making lists of the necessities you’ll be taking off to college in the fall, oblivious to your feelings about your future. You’ve probably had lots of discussions about how your cousin Amanda simply loves her roommate and got all As for her first semester. And you’ve heard lots of talk about what a great experience you are going to have at school next year. You might be feeling like your parents just can’t wait to boast to their friends about how you love your roommate and about how well you are doing in all your classes. Their excitement about your college experience might make it even more difficult to approach them with your alternate plan. And, if you’ve had a pennant from your dad’s alma mater hanging on your wall since you were little, you might be avoiding that conversation to avoid making your dream adventure all too real — even for you.
In spite of all these reasons, now is the time for that difficult conversation. You still have more planning to do, and having your parents’ help and guidance will be a valuable asset. So, start by finding time in your day that is relaxed and long enough to have a good talk, like after you’ve helped put away the last of the dinner dishes. Using your most positive, upbeat voice, tell your parents you want to have a serious conversation. Invite them to sit with you at the table, and take these three things out of a neatly organized binder:
1. Your college acceptance letter with an approved deferment request
Your parents’ first statement will be: “If you do this, you’ll never go back to college.” First and foremost, they will need assurance that you do, indeed, intend to go to college after your gap year. They will also need assurance that you won’t have to go through that grueling college acceptance process all over again. Many schools will grant a one-year deferral request so that you do not have to reapply after your gap year. Schools such as Boston College, MIT, and Harvard actually encourage students to apply for a deferment to take a gap year. Having an approved deferment request from your first choice college will show your parents that your school will accept you after your year and that deferring acceptance for a gap year is an accepted, normal practice.
2. A written outline of your gap year plan
Your parents are going to ask you what you will do with your year. Having a plan that they can review will go a long way to showing them that you are mature enough to carry it out. If you are thinking of traveling abroad, the American Gap Association has a list of certified gap year organizations that can help you plan a foreign travel experience. These organizations can also provide itineraries and information regarding volunteering, career development activities, or just plain adventuring. If your parents are financial types, they are going to ask how much your year will cost, or they’ll ask how you are going to pay for it. Be ready with information about possible scholarships that can help you finance your year. Having information about the financial aspect of your experience will help convince your parents that you are serious about taking responsibility.
3. A photograph taken on the day of your biggest accomplishment
This photo will remind your parents of how they felt as they shared in one of your great successes. Your smile in this photo shows your confidence in yourself at that moment, and it shows the happiness that confidence brought you. Your parents will remember the pride they felt in your growth, and they’ll remember how much they want to see you happy. As they are looking at that photo, tell them how you felt on that day. Tell them this gap experience can be even more significant to your life.
Above all, be patient. Be calm and reassuring. Your parents want you to grow and change. They want you to gain the skills you need to be successful in the world. Show them how your gap year experience can help you meet that goal. Explain how you can combine the career development possibilities of your gap year with the college program you will enter when you return.
Then, ask your parents to tell you about their own adventures and how those experiences helped them become the people they are today. By being prepared and mature in this conversation, you’ll show your parents that you are ready for the adventure of your own lifetime.