By Ilana Sawyer
So you’ve decided to take a gap year. Congratulations! Now you’re focused on the next step — persuading your parents that this is a valuable use of your time, and that this is the right next step for you in your education and in your life.
Especially if the concept is brand new to them, it’s crucial to introduce your gap year to your parents in the right way. After all, you want to be able to keep them in the loop about all of the experiences you'll be having!
Remember that what you say and how you behave will influence their perception of your ability to make the most of this year. Here are four strategies to help convince your parents to support your decision to take a gap year:
1. Keep your parents part of the process.
Schedule time with your parents to talk about your plans for the coming months. Prepare your thoughts and plans ahead of time. Think through your answers to any hard questions your parents may ask you.
Sit down on some comfortable furniture for your conversation. Smile — you know these people! Ideally your parents will be open to listening to what you have to say. Remember to listen to their sides of the story, too.
Surprising Mom and Dad with a packed bag and a plane ticket two days in advance is a bad strategy. Let them know your general intentions well ahead of time, even if you’re still exploring what you’ll be doing.
2. Explain why you want to take a gap year.
Are you unconvinced that college is the best use of your time, money, or energy? Do you think you can make bigger leaps in your career if you’re outside of the campus bubble? Are you dying to explore the real world? Tell your parents why you think that a gap year is the best option for you.
Back up your reasoning with data and anecdotes. Show your parents any articles you read that helped you make your decision, and examples of young people who’ve taken a gap year, been active and productive, and loved it.
Show your parents the programs or plans you’re considering, if any. Guide them through the websites. Let them examine your cost calculations. If you’re asking for money, be clear about the amount and what you will use it for. Honesty is key if you want their financial support during your year.
3. Understand where your parents are coming from.
Make sure your parents know that you’re not trying to take a year-long vacation. Your gap year will not consist of you cramping up your fingers playing video games in their basement, getting acquainted with the infinite scroll function on Tumblr, or partying it up Spring-Break-style in Thailand. Instead, it will involve you working hard, growing as a person, and gaining real world experience. It’s a year on, not a year off.
Be open to their initial reactions to your plans. Right now, they may or may not accept your decision. Your only objective right now is to give them a more complete picture of what you want to do this year. If your parents understand your plans, they are more likely to support you in the process — financially and emotionally.
Be respectful, and ask your parents to do the same. Listen to what they have to say without interrupting. Explain calmly how you feel and why. Take the time to understand what your parents are trying to say, instead of immediately forming counterarguments while they are talking.
4. Communicate the value of real world experience, especially if you’ll be working.
You’ll work on a series of successful projects that you can compile into a portfolio. You can share this work with potential employers and collaborators to demonstrate your interests and abilities, as well as your work ethic.
It’s possible — if you work hard — to get enough work experience that you won’t need a college degree in order to get a job. (Some UnCollege fellows, for example, were offered jobs during the Launch phase, in the beginning of their journeys in the professional world!) And, if you do end up going back to college, you’ll have a head start on your peers in terms of getting internships and later securing a job.
With everything changing at such a rapid rate, education today seems to be preparing young people for a world that doesn’t exist. If you self-direct your learning, however, you can tailor your education to a constantly changing reality, and achieve your own personal brand of success.
By taking a gap year, you are taking the first step in a journey that is your own. Hopefully, these strategies will help you as you navigate the necessary conversations of the next few months.
As you forge your own path, remember that you are taking responsibility for your learning, and that’s something to be proud of — regardless of what anyone else thinks.