Should Your Child Take a Year
Not the End of the World
You want to do what? When
most parents get the news their kid doesn't want to head
straight to college, they're upset. The thought raises fears
such as that their child may never get an advanced degree so
crucial to success. In fact, experts say teenagers who take
time off do go on to college -- and they're usually better,
more motivated students for it.
to invest thousands in an advanced education for your child.
Unless he's ready to make the most of it, this money could
be wasted. So, if your kid is telling you he doesn't want to
go right now, it's in your best interest to hear him.
Insisting a child go to college against his wishes is likely
to cause resentment, failure, and more wasted cash.
mean a reluctant student should get a free pass to lie
around the house all day. Experts say the key to a
successful year off lies in structuring this time around
activities, paid or unpaid, that will provide a rich
experience. You can discuss options for how to spend this
year, but you will also want to set some ground rules, and
stick to them. Will she be expected to support herself, or
pay rent at home? Your relationship should change to reflect
the fact that your child has crossed the threshold to
adulthood. Otherwise, you risk supporting a perennial child.
The key to
a successful year off lies in structuring this time around
activities ... that will provide a rich experience.
Letting your child coast could also hurt her chances later.
Colleges will want to know in detail how the time off was
spent. A year full of rich, mind-expanding experiences or
solid work can mean admission, even for a student with a
poor high school record. In Beyond the Ivy League,
former college administrator Loren Pope notes he wanted to
make a year of work a requirement for admission, because he
found that students with this experience are invariably more
mature and more focused.
Rita Goldman, director of
college guidance at Germantown Friends, a high school in
Philadelphia, agrees. She says she often suggests a year off
for kids who have driven themselves extra hard during the
four years of high school, taking Advanced Placement courses
and getting involved in a number of extracurricular
activities in order to be attractive candidates for top
"Many of these students are
completely burned out by graduation," said Goldman. "They
need to take time off to find out who they are, outside all
the packaging." Such students often go through the college
selection process and defer for a year once accepted, an
arrangement most colleges find perfectly acceptable.
So a year
off isn't necessarily going to banish your kid to a lifetime
of dissolution. But here's another dilemma: what if he
doesn't want to go, but he doesn't have a burning desire to
do anything else either. Don't despair. Most teenagers
aren't ready to make the life-forming choices college can
force on them; yours may just be more honest than most.
The only thing that can
resolve this dilemma is time, and experience. Just about any
kind of experience -- travel, work, volunteering -- can help
your child through this identity crisis. If yours is an
indifferent student, a year trying to support himself on
low-paying work is usually a strong encouragement to go
On the other hand, reluctance
may simply be your child's way of expressing anxiety about
the changes graduation brings. In either case, it's best to
follow two tracks, applying to colleges while planning for a
year off. That way if your child changes his mind, he'll
still have the option of school, and you can rest assured
that, either way, he'll be off to a good start.