Every so often you realize that the First Family is just an ordinary family – just like mine – dealing with the same issues as everyone else. In this case, the First Family and mine have daughters graduating from high school and then moving on to college. However, my daughter will be starting college in the fall while the First Family’s daughter, Melia Obama, has decided to take a “gap year” before attending Harvard.
I have been flooded with questions from concerned parents about whether or not a “gap year” is a good idea, or some evil plot concocted by kids so they have an excuse to sit on the couch for a year, Snapchatting, watching NetFlix, and eating their parents out of house and home.
Here’s the latest “Ask Aimee” that addresses this hot topic and provides the 3 Steps to Gap Year Success.
My daughter is graduating from high school this month, and has been accepted at Northwestern University. It was her top choice and she’s very excited. Out of the blue she decided to explore the idea of taking a “gap year” before starting college. I understand she may need a break from school, but I’m concerned she’s going to forget everything she’s already learned and will struggle to get those brain cells firing again. I want to support her, but how can she use the “gap year” wisely so she’s prepared and raring to go back to school the following year?
Sincerely, Worried MOM of a Graduate
Dear “Worried MOM”:
As a fellow mom of a graduate (and career coach), I understand the concerns you have about your daughter taking a year off before she starts college. However, for the right person with the right plan of action, this can be time extremely well spent. The key is to plan ahead and follow the 3 Steps to Gap Year Success.
Step 1 – Who Will You Meet?
It’s common knowledge that your “network is your networth”, and it’s “not what you know, but who you know.” Building a strong and active network is critical to success, and it’s never too early to start expanding those relationships. If you intentionally use this year to meet new people in new industries or countries, connect with people in person and on LinkedIn, and join some interesting groups and clubs, then you have added tremendous value to your network and to your future.
Step 2 – How Will You Spend the Time?
Every parent’s biggest fear is that their child will use the year to sleep until noon, play video games, and stay out late partying every night. This is why you need a concrete plan of action. How will you use this year to your advantage and be productive? Depending on your situation and circumstances, you can get a job, volunteer your time and services to a myriad of different non-profit organizations, join a Peace Corps-type program, or immerse yourself in another culture and learn another language. Much of this decision will be determined by whether or not you need to earn an income, but the strategy and mindset are the same. Instead of thinking about the year as a vacation and wasting that precious time, figure out the most productive way you can spend the 365 days, and then make it happen.
Step 3 – What Will You Learn?
Even though you’re not in school, it doesn’t mean you stop learning. The goal is to develop a true love of learning in and out of the classroom. Personal and professional growth and development should start as early as possible, and a gap year is the perfect time to get started. During a gap year you can increase your skills with on-the-job training either in an office or in the community. Learn to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Learn a new language and culture by living in another country. Learn what’s it’s like to live on your own and pay your own bills. Learn some new software or technology skills. Take the time to read all the classics you didn’t cover in school. Whether it’s practical skills or major life experiences, it’s about what you will learn during that year that you can apply to the rest of your life.
If we shift our thinking about a “gap year” from “time off” to “time well spent”, then for the right person and with some proactive planning and preparation, it could be an amazing year filled with challenges, experiences, life lessons, relationships, knowledge, insights, and a new-found excitement about returning to school the following year.
Like the Brits say, “Mind the Gap!”