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Your child wants to take a gap year, now what?

So, they’ve told you they want to take a gap year – whatever you do, don’t panic! The idea of your child delaying university to travel or work might seem like a one-way road to ditching their degree altogether, but in reality, it can be a fundamental step towards finding themselves and their independence pre-uni. Not only will they go into their studies refreshed and energised after a break – 12+ years of school can really take a toll – but they’ll learn some lessons along the way that will help them be a better adult in this new stage of their life.  

If you don’t know much about the gap year concept, or are still feeling a little apprehensive, let us break it down for you.  

What you need to know about gap years  

A gap year is, simply put, a year off between finishing high school and starting tertiary study. They’ve been in a rigid schooling routine for at least 12 years by the time they graduate, so many teens seek a break to rest, find their passions, learn more about themselves and have unforgettable experiences.  

Although the format of a gap year is entirely up to them, there are a few paths commonly taken by gap year students. Some decide to stay in their city or country of origin and work full-time, accessing independence and earning their own salary. This is a great chance for them to save some money before uni, whether that goes straight to the savings account or is used to help with relocation costs if they’re studying away from home.  

Some teens want to work and experience another environment, so they’ll choose to take up a position in another country through a gap year program or simply of their own volition. There are many gap year programs in place that offer free or cheap accommodation and meals in exchange for work as a nanny, boarding house leader in a school, bartender, farm worker and more.  

There’s also the option of doing a mix of both – for instance, starting out work in Australia to save money before embarking on a trip for a few weeks or months. Whatever they decide to do, it’s as simple as deferring their studies (permitted their university and course allow this) and going from there.  

Common gap year misconceptions  

Now that you’re up to scratch on gap years, you might be thinking ‘is this a way to get out of university?’ The answer is, in most cases, no. They may just be struggling with burnout from a long, demanding school career, or they’re eager to see the world and contribute to society. As long as they’re safe, prepared and ready to put in the hard work, a gap year can be a transformative experience.  

Plus, for a lot of students, a gap year gives them to chance to think about what they really want. Kids are expected to decide on a university and course of study in quite a short timeframe, so having a year off to really ponder their future might mean they end up making better, more informed choices. If they’re struggling with what to study at uni, a gap year will nudge them towards making up their mind. If their mind is made up, it’s likely a gap year will return them raring and ready to take on university.  

Planning their gap year  

If you and your child have settled on the gap year option, the most important thing you can do is be prepared. Planning is crucial to ensuring your child has a good time, and that they’re equipped for a safe, enjoyable experience. Plus, it’ll put your mind at ease, especially if they want to move to another country! Having everything planned out will make this transition that tiny bit easier.  

Here are a few things to consider when you’re planning out your child’s gap year journey together.  

If they’re staying in Australia and working:  

  • What kind of job will they look for? Is it something casual or related to their future career/current interests?  
  • Will they remain living at home or move out?  
  • Will they contribute to the running of the household, either physically (i.e. chores) or financially?  
  • Are they responsible for their own expenses now, such as transport or vehicle costs, groceries, entertainment budget and personal care? Will they be required to pay board?  
  • Where is their money going? Are they saving for a goal?  

If they’re looking to move overseas or travel:  

  • Where will they be moving or travelling? Are their ‘dream destinations’ safe, affordable and easy to navigate as a tourist or temporary resident?  
  • How long will they be going for?  
  • What kind of job/s will they look for? Will they use a gap year program or organise it themselves?  
  • How much money will they need to sustain themselves?  
  • How often will they keep in contact with you, and how (FaceTime, email, WhatsApp etc.)?  
  • Will you come and visit? Will they be okay if that’s not possible?  
  • Who will they turn to for on-the-ground support?  

These are just a few of the questions to ponder as your child embarks on their gap year – more will arise as you flesh out the finer points of their big adventure. Although they might balk at all of these questions, reassure them that everything will be ten times easier if they’ve got a plan.   

Returning to study post-gap year  

Finally, consider what will happen when the gap year is over. All good things come to an end, and when they do, there are decisions to be made! Are they expected to go straight back to university? Will they move back in with you or find their own place? What about jobs? These are all questions to ask your child and answer together.  

A gap year can be a transformative experience for any newly minted high school graduate, as it’s perhaps the first taste of real freedom they’ll ever have. However, as a parent, we acknowledge it can be scary to let your child forge their own path. With a plan of attack that outlines how you’ll approach the year itself, as well as returning to study, you can ensure that their gap year is something they’ll remember forever, and that you’ll thank yourself for supporting when they return more mature, worldly and passionate about their next steps. 

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