5 Good Reasons to Take a Gap Year (And 2 Bad Ones)

Your child doesn’t seem quite ready for college yet. Would it be a good idea for him or her to take a gap year? Malia Obama did it, after all. Here are 5 good and 2 bad reasons for students to take a gap year between high school and college.

gap year

5 Good Reasons to Take a Gap Year

1. <Good Reason> Your son’s fallen into a pattern of being unwilling to work hard in high school.

Has he gotten mediocre grades? Is he dragging his feet on filling out college applications and applying for scholarships? Taking a gap year where he lives in a tiny studio apartment and works for peanuts can actually teach valuable life lessons that no college program can.

2. <Good Reason> It could do your son great good to learn what life without education or job training is actually like.

Here’s a good line for parents to practice saying: “Well, you’re welcome to live here at home with us, as long as you’re enrolled in (and succeeding in) a full-time academic or job training program. If you’re going to stay out of college and work during this gap year, let’s go find you a small apartment you can rent!”

The struggle to pay for rent, food, transportation, and a cell phone may help your son feel eager to apply to (and work hard in) college or technical school at the next possible opportunity.

For more help on this subject, see this article I wrote on the 7 things every parent should carefully think through anytime kids over 18 ask to—or expect to—live with you.

3. <Good Reason> Colleges will still accept a student who takes a gap year. No problem.

Harvard University actually encourages students to take a gap year. Most colleges know that students who enter college following a gap year can bring fresh, interesting perspectives to a college campus specifically because they haven’t marched lockstep through traditional college prep.

If you wonder why colleges would so value a gap year, take a look at the excellent data the American Gap Association provides here.

4. <Good Reason> Your son wants to take some tech school classes, and perhaps think about 4-year college after that.

This is a brilliant idea! I wish more students would do it. Don’t miss my article on the fantastic benefits of technical school. Tech school training can sometimes lead to lucrative, high employability careers even faster than bachelor’s degree programs can.

5. <Good Reason> Your daughter wants to dive into service to others in an intentional, focused way for 14 months.

Committed work on behalf of one focused cause can develop intelligences and skills that college classes never could. A gap year like this can enrich your daughter’s resume and future grad school applications—while making her an outstanding candidate for the free money merit aid that colleges use to attract students who’ll enrich the campus experience for others.

Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org, notes this about colleges valuing students who work on behalf of one particular cause in an intentional, focused way: “Consistency is the new trend here,” she says. “Students who support one cause over time show commitment and perseverance, both of which are stellar traits for potential co-eds.”

Bad Reasons to Take a Gap Year

1. <Bad Reason> Your daughter wants you to spend $35,000 on a structured gap year program that will “enrich her” through travel. 

There are far better ways for you to spend $35,000. Especially if you have to take out loans to pay for it.

If your daughter wants to enrich herself, she’ll be far better off spending her gap year working hard on behalf of one particular cause in an intentional, focused, and committed way. (She can do this during the hours she’s not working to pay for her gap year studio apartment.)

2. <Bad Reason> Your son doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He needs to “find himself” before deciding about college.

The world is full of 20-somethings who’ve taken gap year after gap year and still haven’t decided what they want to do with their lives.

Wasting an entire year drifting without direction across an ocean of possibility is not what your son needs in order to clarify career focus and direction. Instead, have him take the three career assessments I strongly suggest in this article. He can land on good-fit career goal in less than two weeks.

And if you find yourself lying awake at night agonizing, “Oh, no—what if he suffers in life because he doesn’t discover and follow his passion?” Make yourself feel instantly better by reading my article on why “following your passion” is the worst way to choose a career.

For clear step-by-step instruction on helping your teen or 20-something decide excellent-fit career direction early on, see chapter 13 (pages 133–151) of my book:

You can get 10-minute, fast-paced video instruction on how to use this book most efficiently at bit.ly/easylaunchinstructions.

You can see more than 100 reviews of it on Amazon at:


(Tell your friends.)

You can see why financial advising professionals love LAUNCHhere.

You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCHhere.

Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.

And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.

Do you have specific questions for me about debt-free college and career for your kids?

It’s my members that get most direct access to me. Doors to my membership open each year for just 5 days in March, and 5 days in September. Space is limited. Join the Waiting List here.

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What about you?

What are your thoughts about taking a gap year between high school and college? What has your experience been? What do you wish I’d added to this post? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.

Who is Jeannie Burlowski? 

Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.

Jeannie also helps students apply to law, medical, business, and grad school at her website GetIntoMedSchool.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JBurlowski.