Therapeutic gap years can prepare your child for college by helping them develop the necessary skills and maturity to thrive in a collegiate environment

How A Therapeutic Gap Year Can Help You Succeed In College

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It’s the end of another academic school year, and your child (and probably you!) are feeling a bit run down. Looking ahead, the jump to college in the fall seems almost impossible to contemplate. Perhaps you’ve heard about gap years. They sound good in theory, but you have valid concerns. We hear you. It can be unnerving to take the road less traveled. If you’re considering a gap year, we’re here to show you how it can be done as well as the benefits of taking a therapeutic gap year before launching into college.

What Is A Therapeutic Gap Year?

A gap year is a period of time when young adults take a break from their studies to engage in a semester or year of experiential learning intended to deepen one’s practical or professional awareness. A gap year allows your young adult the space and time to find what they are good at or passionate about. Gap years typically take place right after high school, but before launching into college. Because a gap year is not formally defined by any specific period of time, this break can range from several months to a year or more.  

During an informative podcast interview with Ethan Knight, the Executive Director of the Gap Year Association, Ethan suggested chunking up your gap year into four semesters that focus on these four essential elements:

  1. Volunteering or service component. This is where you get to build empathy and look at life and people through a different lens and world perspective. In our interconnected world, it’s important to lean into this global community.
  1. Career exploration or internship. Just like you want to try things before you buy, this part of the gap year should be spent exploring different careers and areas of interest–to kick the tires, so to speak, to see what working in each field of interest is really like on a day-to-day level. This part of a gap year yields huge dividends. Young adults that take gap years return to college with a deeper sense of what they want out of college. They perform better academically, take on more leadership roles, and graduate more quickly (3.5 years versus the typical 4-5). They are also more satisfied with their work. 86% of gap year students are satisfied to very satisfied with their chosen professions.
  1. Paid work. Young adults that have more skin in the game will take their gap year more seriously. As parents, resist the urge to fully fund a gap year. Having your young adult make some sacrifices to make a gap year happen will bring about motivation and maturity.
  1. Free radical. Don’t over-structure your gap year. It’s okay to have a little downtime. This is part of your gap year where you might discover what you want to get paid to do for the rest of your life. If you take up a gap year, but don’t take the time to really explore all that the world has to offer and how that matches your skills, interests, and talents, it’s tantamount to leaving gold on the table. 

The Outdoor Adventure Therapy Program that Pure Life offers qualifies as a gap year where young adults are immersed in outdoor experiential learning and adventure. During their time away from home, young adults will engage in activities that focus on mental wellness, fitness, mindfulness, life skills, and cultural immersion.

Benefits Of A Therapeutic Gap Year For College Students?

If mental health is a concern, you may be considering a therapeutic gap year for your young adult. There are many reasons why taking a gap year might make good sense, but for those who struggle with mental health and academics, enrolling in a gap program might be essential. It is not uncommon for even the brightest young people to feel “stuck” or “paralyzed” when transitioning from high school to college. Not sure if it’s for you? The benefits you get from taking a gap year could put your child on the path to success in college and beyond. While the benefits are many, here at the top five benefits of a therapeutic gap year:

Improved Academic Performance

Henry David Thoreau once asked, “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?” While it’s absolutely important to help your child to progress, the rate of progress is an individual matter. If you have a child that is underachieving or unmotivated, a gap year can help restore academic momentum. A recent study from the American Psychological Association shows that a gap year can positively impact motivation and academic performance. This research suggests that gap years can lead to higher college performance for young adults who previously lacked interest and confidence at the end of the school year. Parents can often see that their young adult is not prepared for the rigor, stress, and maturity expected to excel at college life. A gap year can give them the grace to develop some of those skills without the crippling grasp of academic pressure.

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Social Development

Depending on the program your child chooses, a gap year program can foster the social growth and development required to adjust to college life with ease. Gap years often give young adults the chance to experience new environments and connect with new peers. They learn how to self-advocate and how to navigate new social situations–all valuable skills for living on their own and meeting new people and interacting with college professors. 

Emotional Self-Awareness

Many bright young adults simply lack emotional self-awareness, especially if they’re struggling with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD. Gap year programs like Pure Life’s Wilderness Therapy can help your child develop the emotional awareness needed to cope with stress and challenges. A traditional gap year does not usually have a therapeutic component. This is an absolutely necessary element of any good gap-year therapy program. When a therapeutic element is incorporated, young adults can reflect on their experiences and prepare for the next stages of their development.

Life Skills

Pure Life’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy integrates adventure activities like surfing, rafting, and backpacking with cognitive behavioral therapy. When young adults leave our program, they don’t leave empty-handed. They take with them a “toolbox” of life skills that they can use to navigate difficult or challenging situations. Often when leaving our program, our youth say they feel more confident in their skills to embrace whatever life throws at them. Life skills like preparing food, personal hygiene, not being afraid to try new things, and taking calculated risks are among the many life skills that Pure Life instills during the program.

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Goal Refinement

While away from home, your child will discover skills and interests that were previously unknown to them. Many times, our young adults leave our program with a renewed desire to develop an emerging talent or skill. They feel optimistic about life and their unique skill set. Life is no longer a scary, unpredictable force, but a wonderful adventure and opportunity.

Common Concerns About Gap Years And College

Even though the idea of a gap year sounds pretty amazing, parents still have concerns about how colleges might perceive this break between studies. This short Q&A can help you understand how a gap year could potentially affect your child’s ability to attend college after the gap year program is complete. 

Q: Does a gap year look bad on college applications? 

Most colleges view gap years in a favorable light, provided that the student can make meaningful connections between how they spent their time and how this would improve their chances for a successful academic life. Maybe colleges and universities offer deferments, which allows your child to keep his university spot while also taking advantage of a therapeutic gap year. You can also choose to apply to college after your gap year. Studies have shown that gap year experience will set your child apart from their peers during the application process.

Q: Do colleges look down on gap years? 

The short answer is no. Because higher education systems understand how important maturity and life skills are to a successful college experience, many top universities, like Princeton and Northwestern, actively recruit students who have international experience, and because they see the value in a gap year experience, they also offer similar gap-year programs for incoming first-year students. A recent study at Middlebury College found that those students who took a gap year between high school and college had higher retention rates and GPAs.

Q: What percentage of gap year students return to college? 

If you’re worried that taking a temporary step away from formal schooling might cause your child to abandon a future academic track, not to worry. The research says that 90% of those who opt for a gap year return to college within a year. 

Q: Are there risks of taking a gap year?

The only risk of taking a gap year is wasting the time you’ve been given. If your child sits on the couch and plays video games during this “break,” they will not reap the benefits of a true gap year experience that is designed to develop life skills, discover talents and passions, and target emotional health. If a gap year is taken with the intent to learn, grow, and develop, there is very little risk. Your child will be better positioned than ever to embrace life with all of its challenges and be well-equipped to do so.

Make Your Gap Year Count With Pure Life’s Adventure Therapy Program

Pure Life Adventure offers an alternative to a traditional gap program. Because we offer the cultural, adventure, and leadership experience of a gap program with the added benefit of strong, research-based, therapeutic support, young adults that often struggle with anxiety, isolation, fear of failure, and executive functioning issues will find that the world is full of opportunity. 

The gift of a therapeutic gap year is the development of a new set of skills and strategies and a healthy sense of grit and confidence. A gap year can absolutely change the trajectory of your child’s life, transforming them into confident, empowered adults that will embrace life rather than shy away from it. We are passionate about helping these young adults develop themselves through our program. To find out more, go here to learn more about how our therapeutic gap year program can help your child go after the life they’ve always wanted to live.

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