Setting Goals for a Gap Year

Sometimes we worry that our students are not ready for the demands of college. Academic demands escalate quickly. Students are expected to manage their own time and live independently, taking charge of their sleep, diet, and chores with little support. It’s a lot to handle, and a gap year can help students ease into these elevated expectations.

Students with ADHD or a learning difference such as dyslexia are prime candidates for a gap year. It is often said that these students’ brain development is delayed, especially when it comes to executive function and self-regulation. Taking a gap year gives students critical time to allow their brain to catch up a bit, so they enter college more prepared to handle the increased demands.

So how do you help students get the most out of their gap year? In their presentation, “LD or ADHD: Ready or Not! The Challenging Path to Adulthood,” Chris Ziegler Dendy and Dr. Ruth Hughes lay out three goals:

  1. Vocational: Students should use their time between high school and college to get real-world exposure to possible careers. This could take the form of an internship or volunteer position, or something less formal like conducting interviews or taking an online course.
  2. Life skills: Even if they continue to live at home, a gap year is a great time to take on responsibility for independent living skills. Whether students start paying rent and managing their finances or take responsibility for grocery shopping and paying bills, they will be better prepared to live on their own.
  3. Fun: Taking time off before college presents a golden opportunity to have some fun! Encourage students to do something big that they consider fun. Besides helping students be more motivated to take on a gap year, it’s also a great way for students to begin taking control of their own lives. They can pick the desitination, figure out the logistics, and head off an adventure of their choosing.

I love these goals because they present a framework to help students create their own gap year, one that reflects their interests and goals and truly prepares them for their future in college and beyond.

I also recommend adding an academic goal: take a college-level course. If students take one college class during their gap year (potentially in a challenging area such as math), they will be one step ahead when they start school.

Goal-directed gap years can help students to explore their interests in the real world while polishing skills they will need to be successful. And when it’s time to matriculate, they will be prepared to pick a realistic major and handle the demands of their academic program.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director