Why College Graduates Should Take a Gap Year; And Why Your Parents Should Support This Idea

I’ve been teaching college kids for 8-years now at the University of North Carolina. And, I love it. 

Kids in college are there because they want to be there. You are forced to go to Kindergarten and you’re required to stick with it in most states through 12th grade. It’s not really optional. 

But, college is.

Sure, there are the exceptions: the kids who’s parents tell them they aren’t getting the family-business, trust-fund or fortune unless they have a college degree. But, those are few and far between.

Nearly everyone who is enrolled in college wants to be there, so they pay attention. And, they’re, for the most part, sponges of information. 

So, that’s why I love teaching college kids. 


But, 4-years of college is intense. And, to be perfectly frank here – and understand that I see nearly all of them their as juniors and seniors – they really don’t know what they want to do with their lives. And, they really don’t know what their options are. 

Of course, there are on-campus career-centers, job counselors, career fairs and even a ton of companies and non-profits (as well as the US military) that come on-camups to recruit. And, companies like Microsoft, Google, Accenture, Bank of America, PWC, the CIA, the FBI and IBM certainly explain what they do and what they want kids graduating from college to do. 

But, truth be told, that’s all the know – that, and whatever it is their moms or dads do. Their knowledge of what is really out there, and what they can do with their lives, is limited to their real-life exposure. And, I find that most of them have really never stopped to think about that, either. They’ve never really sat down and meditated/focused-in-thought or pondered (call it whatever you want to call it) what they want to do with their lives – what are their life passions, goals and aspirations

Sure, some of them have – most haven’t. And, for those that have, I find that they are carrying a torch for their own parents – doing what they were always told they’d be good at by their parents. “Hey, Johnny, you’d make a great attorney. Sara, I want you to take over the family practice and be an dentist.”

Thus, I see – each and every semester – kids taking jobs that aren’t really right for them; the proverbial fitting a square peg in a round hole.

So, I have been spending at least once class each semester on a mission to convince them – and, in turn, help them build a strong argument for their parents – to NOT take that job upon graduation. To take time-off after graduating, and travel. Travel in the USA, Europe, Asia, South America – anywhere; doesn’t matter.

If you’re the parent of a college kid, you probably hate me right now. You’ve likely already spent a fortune sending your kid to college and the last thing you want is for them to ask you to support them, financially, for yet another year. Right?

I totally agree. You should not support them.

You see, here are the other parts of what I tell them about taking a gap year:

1. Travel Alone: No, doing this with your best friend, college roommate or sorority sister doesn’t work. That’s a vacation; not a life-experience. You must do this alone. That way, you’ll meet and talk to strangers, be more aware of what’s around you and THINK. You see, introspection, discovery and self-realization are the keys to this working. If you’re by yourself, you’ll figure out what you like, don’t like, love, don’t love and what you’re passionate about.

2. Don’t Carry A Suitcase: Traveling with two weeks worth of clothing and washing it regularly at the laundromat is, again, like a vacation. Carry a backpack, an iPhone and a wallet. You don’t need anything else. Figure it out.

3. Find a Job – Many Jobs: No, don’t ask your parents to fund this. Actually, you can ask them for the plane ticket out and the one back home after four, five or six months. But, no other money. You fund the rest. Find a summer job before you leave on your trek or work-as-you-go. There are hundreds of odd-jobs you can get in random places all around the world that will pay you. Figure it out. 

4. Stay Mindful: Be present in the moment. Be aware of where you are, what you are seeing, what excites you and what emotions you have. This will unlock the key to our professional future. Trust me, it works. You’ll come back way, way smarter (and more mature – even though I know you hate that word) than when you left. 

So, parents, will you support this? 


written by Gary Kayye