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Have you heard about the recent announcement that President Obama’s daughter, Malia, will be taking a “gap year” before starting at Harvard University in the fall of 2017? The news drew a mixture of approval, criticism for her delaying adulthood, and even envy that “taking a break” is something only the wealthy can afford to do.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. Who among us knew what we wanted to do when we were 18? images (1)I know I sure didn’t! In fact I was practically terrified at graduating – I wanted to redo my senior year! Fast forward more years than I care to admit, but the concept remains the same — only today, with college costing thousands a semester and not hundreds, what makes more sense: taking a “break” until you have even “some” clue what you want to do with your life, or continuing with school and spending money you will have to repay at some point later on?

What should one do during that year “off”? Lots of possibilities exist, but I think one of the best ones is to simply WORK. I don’t think it really matters what or where. Just find out what it’s like to hold down a full-time job, and many kids will scratch their heads how mom and dad did this month in, month out, year in, year out. In other words, they’ll gain a greater appreciation for what it’s like to work, and they’ll look at school through a different, wider lens … likely saying to themselves… “Wow, I know I don’t want to do THAT the rest of my life.”

I worked a number of jobs before starting college at 23, an age when my best friends were either seniors or had already graduated. But so what? As Bob Dylan once sang, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose,” and that’s exactly where I was at.

145303-425x282-Three-recent-graduatesBut being a tad older had its advantages, too. Rather than just seeing college as an extension of high school, like many of my “peers,” those of us with some “real world” experience better saw higher education as the opportunity it was toward a more promising future. In other words, we tended to look at college more seriously, and not just a chance to get away from home and party up a storm. Students who are more driven, like I was, tend to get better grades. I’m generalizing a bit, I know some youth are mature well beyond their years, but I can only report on my experiences.

I also had a different outlook about final exams. Stressed out? Try getting laid off when you’re 22 and still living at home, and telling your folks you’re going back to school. Now THAT’S stress!

Of course, work isn’t the only possibility …. Opportunities to travel may also exist… especially in this day and age. One of my nieces is presently in the midst of a study semester abroad in Italy. But this took place after she had already been in college for several years. I am not sure if “studying abroad” is something true freshmen do. Perhaps.

Regardless, what is wrong with the idea of your recently graduated son or daughter (or even grandson or granddaughter) taking some time off for six months or year to travel before starting school? “Scratch that travel itch” while you’re young and get it out of your system, or you might end up regretting it later. Besides, look at all the cultures that traveling exposes you to. Wow, that’s an education in itself.

But whether the “gap year” involves working, traveling, or both, the idea should be to broaden one’s horizons and gain an appreciation of a solid work ethic, work experience, knowledge of other cultures and values, greater confidence, etc. These are all areas that will continue to come into play later.

Call it a “gap year,” “bridge year,” or whatever you like, but, done right, it can be a year very well spent, and not a year that’s wasted. It’s something worth thinking about if you have a teen who’ll soon be graduating.

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