5 Benefits of a Teen Gap Year

What is your teen going to do after high school? Here’s how to use real-world learning to help them prepare for college.

By Kathryn Dorrell

Schools in North America are seeing a marked increase in young people choosing to take a gap year before they pursue post-secondary studies while the rite of passage has been common in the UK for many years.

But the decision can unsettle parents. We may worry about what our teens will do during the year beyond watching Netflix and eating pizza. And if they will be prepared to continue their studies afterward. Here are five benefits a gap year can provide:

More money sense

The cost of post-secondary studies can start in the ten thousand dollar range and go up steeply from there—and that’s before books and boarding. A gap year is a great time for young people to earn money towards their education, which will mean they’re more invested in their studies and learn financial responsibility.

Better grades and job prospects

Research by the American Gap Association shows that taking a “gap year”—a break from studies before or during a postsecondary degree—leads to better grades, more satisfying careers and even higher pay in the long term. A UK study from the University of London shows that employers value the “soft skills,” such as organizational abilities, honed during gap years.

Valuable volunteering opportunities

Encourage your young person to talk to non-profits and guidance counsellors about rewarding volunteer experiences that will enhance their life and future resume. The WE Movement’s cofounder, Marc Kielburger, volunteered at an AIDS hospice in Bangkok during a break from his studies, and brother Craig toured South Asia, researching child labor, among other endeavors.

Life-changing education about the world

Gap years are a great time for young people to explore different cultures, issues and life experiences overseas. It’s a chance to travel with purpose. It’s a time for teens to have the opportunity to create positive impact and be a part of something larger than themselves. When teens sign up for a ME to WE Youth Volunteer Trip, it’s more than a stamp on your child’s passport, it’s a one-of-a-kind, life-changing experience. Not only will your son or daughter meet new people and explore new cultures, they’ll also launch into a journey of self-discovery and a meaningful rite of passage on the path to adulthood.

On the trip, young people make lifelong friendships as they work together to build wells, schools and medical clinics; teach English; and work side-by-side with rural community members on development projects. They come home with self-confidence, intellectual maturity, and an appreciation for their own culture, as well as the diversity of others’.

A new passion

A gap year provides the perfect opportunity to talk to friends and families about their careers, hone passions and make smart decisions about next steps. Teens are recommended to meet with a career expert at the university they plan to attend. “Theses experts can help talk through interests, guide to resources and plan gap-year opportunities that develop valuable competencies,” advises Norah McRae, executive director, co-operative education and career services, University of Victoria. BONUS: Research from Dalhousie University in Halifax finds that when teens clarify career goals during a gap year, it leads to less wasted money and time in post-secondary classes.