College Gap Year

Emergent adults are taking less of a straight line to adulthood than past generations did.  They are more likely to take a semester abroad, a gap year, or to change schools once or more.  Many are withdrawing from college for emotional reasons or due to adjustment difficulties.

These interruptions can feel discouraging and lead to the conclusion that “I’m just not meant for college.”  To help the student avoid discouragement, have a productive hiatus, and re-engage college opportunities, we recommend the following strategies:

  1. Be prepared to reframe these “failures” as “interruptions.”
  2. Remember that college interruptions are more the norm now than the exception.
  3. Surround the student with support, but also encourage challenge and engagement such as paid work, auditing classes, volunteering, chores, etc.
  4. Within a framework that appropriately sets boundaries for your own involvement, put the student in the driver’s seat regarding choices about how to spend their year off.
  5. Empower the student to make their own choices about what to do after the hiatus.
  6. If the student is struggling with confidence,  consider a community college setting as a stopgap to build up confidence and coping skills.
  7. Be curious.  After years of honoring external expectations, many young people find it initially difficult to express their own preferences.
  8. Prior to returning to college, explore support options with the student so that she has resources when things get tough.