High school graduation
Credit: Maryland GovPics via Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Today many high school students in their freshman, sophomore and junior years are presented with all kinds of college information. For starters, they practice PSATs, subsequently take SATs (probably a couple of times) and their parents and guidance counselors begin to plant the seeds of college plans.

For some students the mere idea of going to college is overwhelming, especially if the recent graduate has no idea what he or she wants to do as adulthood begins to arrive. He or she may even consider taking year off after high school graduation in order to figure it all out; in some cases, he or she also may receive a lot of pressure for even considering this idea.

However is it a bad idea? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Some parents may scoff at the idea of taking a year off from academics and give their child a hard time about not going straight to college. In some cases this may be is a good idea if their child has a tendency to not take initiative. Consequently, in other situations, applying pressure to a recent graduate can be a bad approach. It really depends on the individual.

A good number of students do indeed choose to go straight to college right after high school, but what about the percentage who feels they are not ready? Should they take a year off after high school first?

Readiness and “Want” Matters

While college is an ideal choice for many high school graduates, others may simply not be ready. Students today have many choices when they graduate high school, and college is only one of those options. For some students, a year off may not be a bad idea. The most important question parents should be asking about post high school plans is not which college to choose; the better question is "What's your plan?

When I worked in admissions and registrar at a community college, one of the questions I’d ask is “How badly do you want it?” Most of the time, this question was directed at adults considering going back to school who were worried about how hard it would be. However, this question could also be applied to the younger group as well. If a young adult does not “want it”, chances are it is the wrong time to start.

College is not for everyone, and some students who jump right into more academics after being coerced into college before they are ready often end up unsuccessful. This can permanently taint their perception of college and hurt them in the long run. College is best experienced when a student is ready to go, not when they are forced by family or societal pressures. The latter has possibility in setting a young adult up to fail even when intentions are good.

According to a 2014 report published by TIME, some colleges are even offering financial incentives to incoming freshman that are arriving after taking a gap year. 1

Is a Gap Year a Good Idea?

Most parents consider the value higher education can give, but the high school graduate may not be ready for this route just yet. If this is the case, the most important thing a parent should focus on is that the student has an alternative plan. Rather than emphasize which academic journey to pursue, parents should focus on all options and see which one best matches their child.

The goal is that the graduate isn't planning on spending the year lounging around, but working towards something. There is nothing wrong with not going away to college immediately as long as the time off isn't spend idly. Other alternative options a recent graduate can take advantage of include:

Trade and Vocational Programs

If a student is interested in a specific trade or industry, a career program that teaches vocational skills may be a good option. This will relieve some of the academic pressures and time used can still be productive with valuable skills learned in the process. There is a lot to be said for hands-on experience and a trade/vocational program can offer this important kind of learning that can't always be attained in a classroom. Maybe a traditional college isn't in the cards, and specific career training can get the young adult where he or she wants to be.


Learning can extend beyond the classroom, and one fantastic kind of education is to travel and experience the world. Observe different regions and cultures. High school graduates who have the financial means and are not really ready to take on a degree program may find it beneficial to continue their education through travel. What better way to gain firsthand knowledge of the world that can't be gotten from a textbook? If the travel takes place abroad, the student sees history and culture in person, things those who go straight to college may never see. There is a lot to be said about the value of travel. If he or she travels in a group, this allows somewhat of a safety net.

partial landscape view of the Grand Canyon
Credit: Moyan Brenn on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Traveling can broaden one's horizons and open a high school graduate's mind to numerous possibilities of which path to take after a gap year is over.

Get a Job

For some high school graduates a year of work may be a good option in either a paid or volunteer position. There is a lot to be said for learning how to be responsible and holding down a full-time job. Depending on the kind of work chosen, this also may look good on a college application when the time comes to apply.

While a college education is, for many people, a valuable road to travel, for some high school graduates this may not be a good option – at least not right away. The most important thing is for a graduate to have a plan, even if it deviates beyond the traditional college-bound path many take in their post high school years. There are all kinds of ways to learn and, for some high school graduates, the maturity that can be gained in the year following senior year can really help shape him or her for big success.

After high school comes the time life as an adult begins. Post-graduation is a time that children grow into their own and have to begin making decisions for themselves as to where they want the direction of their life to go. At this time, they are no longer a passenger, they are pilots in their own journeys.