As parents, we want to set our kids up for a lifetime of success. The job gets tricky when they turn 18, become independent, and start making decisions that have long-term consequences for the first time.

Even though they are legally adults, their prefrontal cortex will not fully develop until age 25. This means teens are more likely to make emotionally backed decisions instead of rationally backed ones. They may only decide to go to college because “everyone else is doing it”, or they may push back because the idea of sitting in a classroom for another four years feels torturous.

While college can be a life-changing experience for many, those changes are not always good. That is why it is important to consider the benefits of waiting before you push your child down the college route.

The Argument for a Gap Year

Taking a gap year between high school and college gives students the chance to recover from burnout and learn who they are outside of the classroom. (Especially for students who took AP and honors courses.) For non-academically motivated students, a year of work allows them to build confidence and better reputations with their supervisors than they did with their teachers.

Many educators agree that students who take a year off come back feeling refreshed and matured, with a clearer vision of their future than before. Of course, this all depends on how valuable their gap year was.

To gain critical “real world” experience, young adults should travel, work a job that interests them, or volunteer somewhere inspiring.

How to Know If It Is a Good Idea to Wait

If your child’s SAT/ACT score is significantly higher than their grades, that could be a sign they are intellectually capable enough, but not disciplined enough, to take college seriously. That is okay! Some people are simply not classroom-motivated.

Let them have a year off to find work that inspires them. That way, when they go to college, they go to develop the skills they are genuinely passionate about.

Just like how someone can underutilize a gap year, they can also underutilize one year in college. (And college costs significantly more than taking a year off.) Building your GPA back up after one year is tough, especially if you are looking to transfer or apply to a program that requires a good GPA.

For some people, it is better to lower the stakes as you go—work, go to community college, then transfer to a four-year university. For some students, starting with a four-year university provides a lot of unnecessary pressure and anxiety that can affect their performance and confidence.

If all they face in school is disappointment, they may not make the best use of their newfound independence. This can lead to serious depression, coping with alcohol and drugs, skipping classes, or flunking out.

The Risks of Waiting to Go to College

If your child chooses to work after graduation, they risk the chance of putting off college so long that they never actually go.

Studies show they could miss out on as much as $800,000 over the course of their lives compared to the salaries of college grads. (However, some 18-year-olds might prefer avoiding student loan debt while they are young and still learning financial literacy.)

College today has become sort of a cultural expectation for young adults. As parents, you want to help your child decide what is best for their individual future. That means making yourself a safe space for them to open up, discuss long-term consequences of their actions, and move forward with confidence.

What is the best way to do this? Therapy! I am happy to work with you and your child so they have the tools they need to make big decisions like these with confidence. Ready to get started? Schedule an appointment with us today.