Gap Year

Dec. 3, 2014

Today I want to celebrate one of my own. My middle child, a son, will graduate with a degree in geology in about two weeks. I like to bring him up because he did not take a traditional route through college, but one that led him to successfully complete his college requirements.

I have written about him before, but his story is worth repeating. He is smart and made good grades in high school, but struggled with focus and boredom due to his being attention deficit. Due to the fact that he had taken several IB and AP classes, by the end of his junior year, he had all he needed to graduate except for a one-semester government class. When he showed me his line-up of classes for his senior year, I got a bit worried. I have no problem with interest-specific classes, but when the entire schedule was made up of classes like photography and videography, I got a sinking feeling that he might find himself with too much time for getting into trouble—which he had already proven he was capable of doing.

It was me, not him, that suggested he finish high school early and go do something useful in the world. He was suspicious, but listened as I suggested Americorps or something similar. He countered with the idea of going out of the country to volunteer. We started looking into gap year programs, but ended up constructing one on our own through one of my husband’s work colleagues.

This middle child and his older brother—who took a semester off from college, where he was doing well—took off that January to volunteer with a small NGO in Peru. They both had some Spanish, but took an intensive language course in the country before finding their way to the small community in which they worked. It was a great experience for both of them as they had to figure out transportation and housing, as well as their work project on their own.

After their return, older brother returned to college and the younger sized up his options quickly. He knew the rules: if you are a full-time student, your college fund kicks in; if not, you’re on your own. When he insisted he would attend the local community college, all kinds of alarms went off. I knew it wasn’t what he wanted, but he didn’t want to scrounge for his own rent. His dad and I tried to talk him out of it, telling him if he wasn’t serious, he would be wasting his college fund—so, of course, that is what he did—waste his college fund. He made Cs when he was completely capable of As and took classes that didn’t go toward much when he finally did get serious about college.

Shortly into the second semester of community college, he came to me to proclaim I was right: He wasn’t ready for college. Instead he was heading to New Zealand. He saved a couple of thousand from his part-time job, and his dad and I told him to have a great time. Which he did. He worked when he needed enough money, traveled all over, met lots of people, made all his own decisions, and truly matured.

Ten months or so later, he returned broke, but happy with his adventures. He was forced to live at home for awhile due to lack of funds, and he took the first job he could get: selling high end vacuum cleaner and air filter systems. He actually was a good salesman, but hated the job. About three weeks into it, he came to us and said: “I’m ready for college.” And he was.

He started university the following fall, was a serious student, did well in his classes, loved his major of geology, and is now set to graduate in a couple of weeks—at age 25. I never doubted that he would eventually go to college, but I knew it needed to be on his own terms. That is something that many parents have a difficult time accepting, but accept it they should, as it never does any good to force a young person into college.

Education never has been a one-size fits all, and college is not the right path for every high school graduate, nor is going straight to college after high school. It can be a stop-start, much delayed, or a circular route getting there. But the student shouldn’t start until he or she is ready, willing, and able. That’s what it’s all about.

Congratulation Wes!!

April 30, 2014

I admit, I get exasperated every time I read another article that basically states the same ideas readers can find in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Neither my book nor I am a big enough name to be noticed by the “well-knowns,” and so I report when their blogs, articles, books, affirm Toward College Success.

Nancy Flanagan, a regular blogger for Education Today, recently wrote a piece titled: “College-Ready?” While she does discuss what makes a student “college ready,” she first challenges the idea that going to college, picking a college, and picking a career mostly should be based on rate of return. I completely agree. Not long ago, I wrote about the value of learning for learning sake, the value of stretching one’s cognitive abilities, the value of studying and discussing challenging and diverse subjects. Flanagan states that the primary trajectory toward college is: “1) Being college ready. 2) Being successful in college (completing a degree program, admission to the next level). 3) Using those degrees to leverage more money and prestige.”

If that is what a student wants for her life, then good for her. Hopefully she has the drive, the maturity, and all the skills to make it happen. But, of course, there are other paths to a fulfilling and successful life—vocations, certifications, apprenticeships, military—but these often carry the stigma that these paths are not as lucrative or fulfilling—two terms that should be defined by personal interests, goals, and priorities, not by the world at large.

Flanagan writes: “What do we expect to get out of a college degree? It’s very rare to hear policymakers or thought leaders talk about depth of disciplinary knowledge, exposure to diverse viewpoints and the art of argument, guidance in learning to create or solve problems–or lead. Instead, we get lifetime salary estimates as payoff for slogging our way to a credential. Nobody talks about personal satisfaction or the benefits of an educated populace.”


As for college readiness, Flanagan says that being college ready is having the “self awareness” to wisely choose a field of study and having a clear purpose for going. To be successful in college, Flanagan says, takes maturity, something she doubts many freshly graduated high school students possess. So what does she suggest? One is to take a gap year if you can find one that you can afford.


But mostly she suggests getting out and living. “Get a Joe job. Move out and live independently, or with roommates. Pay your own utility bills. Sponge off your parents for home-cooked leftovers and access to the washing machine. Travel to places you’ve never been. Think about how you’d like to live, as an adult. Dream. Read. Make mistakes.”


Great advice—found in Toward College Success as well. After such an exploration, maybe that student will decide it’s time for college.


To read Flanagan’s article:


Aug. 21. 2013

The ACT makers announced today that the average composite score on its 2013college-entrance exam is the lowest it’s been in eight years. Apparently, since 2006, the composite score has hovered at 21.1 (out of a possible 36) until this year when it dropped to 20.9. In addition, only 39 percent of 2013 ACT test takers met three or more of the college-readiness benchmarks in English, math, and science. Does that mean a lot of high school graduates are not college ready?

I don’t think the composite scores mean that, but I do think a high percentage of high school graduates are not college ready. In an Education Week article, writer Caralee Adams presented the discussion of what these lower scores mean. In one reader comment following her article, a commenter summed up something I believe. He wrote: “It’s not about so-called academic readiness; it’s about maturity and being personally responsible.”

While I believe academic readiness is definitely an important part of college readiness, I definitely agree that maturity and personal responsibility play a huge role in college success. That, of course, is the whole premise of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able. As I’ve said before, a 4.0 GPA does not ensure college success, nor does high test scores.  If a student cannot manage her time and priorities, cannot handle conflict, cannot manage her finances, cannot self-advocate, then that student is going to have a tough time succeeding in college.

While parents of high school juniors and seniors fret over upcoming college-entrance exams, they should remember their part in being sure their teenager is college ready. It is up to parents to teach the life skills that all teenagers will need to solve problems, make adjustments, and move toward accomplishment once those teenagers head out into the world—whether it is to college, work, military, or whatever. If parents see that their teenager has not honed needed life skills, then parents need to encourage their teenager to take some gap time and undertake meaningful occupation to help grow those skills. College will be there when that student is finally ready, willing, and able to succeed.

To read the article:

May 30, 2013

 Taking a gap year or any amount of gap time is a move that benefits most young adults. For many teenagers, going straight into college after high school is not the right path to take, and, so, taking some time to work or travel offers an opportunity for a teenager to mature, grow, and gain experience in the world. I enjoy hearing about gap year plans or stories and I’m delighted to share the plans of a young woman about to embark on her gap year that combines travel and study.

 Abi just graduated from high school, and like many seniors, she applied to college last fall and was accepted into a couple of her choice schools. But last fall, her father, who is a long-time member of the Rotary Club, mentioned to her that the application deadline for the Rotary Youth Exchange program was coming up. Abi was familiar with the program that sends students to other countries to attend school because her family hosted Rotary exchange students in the past. With the love of travel in her blood, Abi recognized the opportunity, applied, and was accepted. This summer she will move in with her host family in Sweden, attend the equivalent of high school for another year, explore a new culture, learn to live without her family, grow her independence, and learn a new language—all great skills for success in college and beyond.

 Even though she most likely will be repeating some subjects, the language will be new and challenging to her. She is already getting her ear tuned in to Swedish using a Rosetta Stone program. As with any looming adventure, Abi is excited and nervous at the same time. I applaud her daring to step beyond the familiar and expand her outlook and experience.

 When she returns, Abi plans to attend one of two colleges here in Colorado. She has already gotten a deferral for her gap year from one school and she hopes to get at least some part of admissions deferral for the other school. Abi says she will major in business because she plans on becoming an entrepreneur. Seems to me that she is on the track to success!

 The Rotary Young Exchange is just one more option for students seeking a gap program. If you or your teenager believes he or she needs to take some gap time before embarking on the college experience, start doing some research now. Rotary Youth Exchange and Americorps are two that won’t cost to participate, but there are many structured gap programs worth checking out. The ultimate goal, of course, is for your teenager to mature and grow enough to be successful in college and beyond.

 To read more about Rotary Youth Exchange, go to:

To see a picture of Abi, go to:

April 2, 2013

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed by Diana Simeon, editorial manager of Your Teen magazine. The article she was wrote appears in the magazine’s Spring 2013 issue—the title: “A Different Path: Alternatives to the Traditional College Experience.” Simeon’s article discusses community colleges, gap year options, post-graduate year (as in post high school graduate), working, and more. I appreciate her quoting me several times in her article and she did a good job presenting the case for taking an alternative route to college.

 I also was impressed with the magazine as whole. To accompany Simeon’s article, there is one teen’s account of his gap year experience and there is an article with a U.S. Army recruiter. Then there is an enlightening article on transgender teens told from the points-of-view of a parent of a transgender teen, two transgender teens, and a journalist. You can read a mom’s account of her college-attending daughter owning up to having a fake ID, a discussion on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana, and ideas on getting your teenager to the dinner table with some teen-friendly and nutritious recipes.

 Even the advertisements in this magazine caught my eye—ads for summer academics, college information, teen health care, and workshops for activities such as the “7 habits of highly effective teens.”

 I think one of the magazine’s strengths is that it presents ideas and comments from parents, experts, and teenagers. The website,, is also a great resource for parents. Just a glance across its home-page tab line shows it covers most everything: drugs and alcohol, health issues, school issues, relationships, and more. If you don’t find a topic covered that you need help with, you can send in a question and an “expert” will write back with ideas.

 In the beginning of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I state: “It is difficult enough maneuvering through your child’s teenager years without wondering if he or she will be ready, willing, and able to succeed in college, but wonder you should.” That wondering will take you on a journey of questioning, researching, and evaluating your teenager’s readiness for whatever lies after high school. Add Your Teen to the bucket of resources you consult for help. 

Jan. 15, 2013

Yesterday I was interviewed by a reporter with a magazine called “Teen Parent,” which is for parents of teenagers. She asked me how parents can determine if their teenagers are ready, willing, and able to succeed in college, and if not, what to do. Then last evening, I attended my local school district’s open house for parents and spoke with one school’s principal who talked to me about the benefits of kids taking a gap year, or even deciding not to go to college at all. I was struck that in one day, I was asked twice about college readiness and the decision to delay going to college right after high school.

 Even though I have been reading and writing about this subject of college readiness for two years, it seems to be a topic on which parents and educators still want to hear more. As I told both the reporter and the principal, I am a proponent of students taking gap time—whenever they need it—be it between high school and college, or during the college years. Although some kids know exactly what they want to do when they grow up, and therefore know what major to choose, I would venture to say that a majority do not. I also say there are many teenagers who do not have the life skills they need to be successful in college, or in whatever they want to do after high school.

 Those students who still need to mature, who still haven’t figured out how to prioritize and self-advocate, who still avoid difficult decisions, who still can’t live on a budget, who have not been given the opportunity to learn from mistakes, or who simply are sick of school—those are students who need to take some time before committing dollars and time to college. Those are students who need to take some gap time, whether it be through an organized program such as Americorps, or something they come up themselves. Maybe he wants to join the military or maybe he just wants to be out on his own working for awhile. Maybe she just needs to see how the world works away from mom and dad.

 One problem is that mom and dad often are afraid that their child will never go to college and therefore never be able to sufficiently support himself. In the end, it is the child’s life and he needs to choose his own path. Parents’ role is to help that young person find success in whichever path she chooses—not dictate the path.

 As I tell parents in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, take a deep breath, ask your teenager what she wants after high school, and listen—really listen—then ask how she plans to get there, and be willing to help her find the path to success.