After high school, our son took a year off before going to college. Because he was burned out from studying so hard, we didn’t fight his decision. As time went on, we started to see the wisdom of his choice. Although we’d worried that he wouldn’t return to college, when he did go back, he did so with more focus, dedication and drive than ever. Meanwhile, we could get our finances in better order for a potential recession.
With the economy being unpredictable, we worried that he wouldn’t get a job. Although he was welcome to live with us during that year, he’d decided that he wanted to try and get a job, pay rent and see if he could make it on his own. We admired his drive but wondered about job prospects. Could he truly get a job that would allow him to get by – especially in a tight economy?
As it turns out, he not only did but found one with health benefits and enough money to live in a small apartment with two other people. He learned quite a bit from the experience. He also got an education about how his earnings were calculated and the reality of payroll deductions. It was both a shock and a wake-up call. When he returned to college, he no longer felt exhausted or half-hearted about being there. He was ready to learn – and ready to earn when he left school.
Most importantly, his gap year turned out to save money in the end.
Here’s why a gap year could still be the right choice, even during a recession:
1. Gap years make sense even during a recession – because college is expensive.
Yes, scholarships exist. But why have a student take a scholarship if he or she doesn’t want to be in college yet? For those students who don’t qualify for a scholarship or have to rely on student loans, it might make more sense to have the student work for a year, save money (possibly living at home) and delay the expense. For parents, avoiding college expenses may allow time for them to avoid debt and keep financially afloat during a recession (hopefully, long enough to build extra savings and offset a decline in the return on money already saved for college).
How much does college cost? You can use this calculator cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/collegeplanner/collegeplanner_101.jsp located at CNN. Averages range from $12,000 to $36000 a year. Whew! That is plenty to spend, especially during a recession.
2. A gap year may allow student to mature and become ready for work or ready for college.
Not all teens and young adults mature at the same rate. While some students are eager to enter college, others discover they quickly become homesick or feel overwhelmed. A fair number drop out. Spending that money may hurt but can hurt even more during a recession.
An extra year getting ready for college during a gap year could allow a student to develop some independence, adjust to being alone while still having the comfort of some friends and family members and think about what skills he or she needs.
Also, being ready for college and being ready for work may or may not be two different things as this article put out by a PTA website suggests: www.pta.org/pr_magazine_article_details_1156454363968.html Our son did seem to feel a bit disoriented after high school as his friends took off for various universities. He could have done the same thing but he needed to adjust to being out of high school. He grew up quite a bit in that year, made friends outside of college and learned the realities of balancing a checkbook, paying rent, buying groceries and limiting trips home to use Mom and Dad’s washing machine….and dryer.
The financial information and basic survival skills he gained are lifelong skills. Everyone needs to be able to balance a budget, pay bills and figure out what basic expenses need to be paid. He also learned the difference between discretionary spending and impulse purchases, especially when the food budget ran out about three days before the end of the month because of a decision to buy (well, never mind that).
3. A gap year can help many young adults take additional time for college prep or to collect college information from students – even during a recession.
There are many sites with information about financial aid such as this one on student aid: studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/index.jsp
While in high school, it can be hard to juggle homework, college applications and the various options for student loans or financial assistance. If an individual is working and not taking college classes, there may be additional time to make the right choice, one that helps both parent and student bank accounts and college funds.
4. A gap year may save money in the long run – even during a recession.
Why pay for an unmotivated student to be in college? Why force a young adult to be there if he doesn’t want to be? That was the dilemma we faced. By working a year, our son was actually able to contribute some money to his college fund and we were able to add savings to it as well. In the meantime, our son was able to gain confidence, realize he could support himself outside of college and gain motivation for being back in school.
When he returned to school, he also had job skills to put on his resume. He’d worked as a classroom aide and had successfully mentored another student who needed one to one tutoring and classroom help. He did this without having to divide his time between work and school. After his first year of college, he landed an even better job than he might have had without that job experience. His college counselors say he’ll be in a good position to land a job after college because of the work experience (he’d had summer jobs as well).
5. Even during a recession, it may be possible for young adults to find work.
Job prospects may vary widely, since some areas have fewer jobs than others. However, students who have just completed their senior year of high school may have an edge when it comes to jobs as tutors or teachers’ aides. They are not only familiar with the high school courses but know the teachers and high school routine. Young adults may also be able to get by with the income – money which might not help support a family but is enough for a post high school student who is sharing rent with friends and who doesn’t have kids yet.
I did want to note that we live in an area with a relatively low cost of living. Keep cost of living factors in mind when considering a gap year as an option for your young adult. Rents were very low when he took a year off from school and food costs aren’t sky high (although they’ve risen significantly in the last year).
Making the decision to take a gap year – or year off from school before entering college – shouldn’t be made lightly. However, it may still be a wise choice for some students, even during a recession.