What I Learned from My Child’s Gap Year [Interview]

Posted by: Molly Herber on 7/7/15 8:00 AM

"Just listen to your child."

A little while back we shared Molly Hunt’s story of her gap year, which included a NOLS Semester in New Zealand. We caught up with her mother to hear about what the gap year experience is like from a parent’s perspective, and she offered some great advice on why a gap year is a powerful learning tool and how to build a meaningful gap year.

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Seeking leadership opportunities is key to a meaningful gap year. Photo by Ellen Humphreys.

What did you think when Molly told you she wanted to do a gap year?

We were in full support of it, both my husband and I were ... I’m a preschool teacher and in my 20 years of parenting and teaching, I’ve never met a parent who regretted giving their child more time.

What was your role in helping Molly prepare for her gap year?

We trusted Molly to find something. We wanted her to do something meaningful, and she really investigated her options and immediately came upon NOLS. Molly did the research, and then I thought NOLS was fantastic in walking us through everything that we needed and helping us along the way ... The whole process was incredibly easy.

[My husband and I] both thought that NOLS was very thorough ... and I felt that when we sent the documents off to NOLS that they really knew Molly, and they knew her strengths and they knew her weaknesses and we could have very candid conversations about what Molly was looking for ... and they were incredibly supportive in that process.

How has Molly changed post-gap year?

I think it really helped prepare her for college. When we visited her professors at Kenyon College ... most of them came up to us, totally unsolicited, and said that there was a maturity about Molly and a seriousness about her, in a good way ... and I think that the gap year helped that, just giving her the time.

I think she’s been able to take full advantage of all her college has had to offer. The leadership that she got from the NOLS program in New Zealand really helped her prepare for college and take it very seriously. I think she just learned a lot about herself and she learned a lot of leadership and working in a group.

Right when she came back from New Zealand I think she was just a wonderful steward of the earth ... and she’s been on a bunch of backpacking trips since then, and taking advantage of the outdoor club at Kenyon, and I don’t think she would have done that had she not gone on a NOLS trip.

I think the backpacking was really demanding ... with the physical demands, but also just the group mentality, and I think she said that ... all of the [instructors] were just so great at managing that, and she was so grateful there were three parts of the trip and there were different [instructors] for each different segment, because every leader has something of value to teach the kids.

She just came back very confident and self-assured with a lot of poise, not over-confident, but just a very settled sense of confidence. That’s what any parent wants to see, their child happy and thriving and confident and ready for the next step.

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Learning about yourself may be the most important part of a gap year. Photo courtesy of Molly Hunt.

Do you have any advice for parents whose children are considering a gap year?

As a preschool teacher I tell parents, “just listen to your child.” Listen to what they really want to accomplish and set it up so that it’s meaningful to them, and not necessarily what the parent wants them to do ... If you want your child to learn and grow from this experience, then they have to buy into it and they have to be excited about the opportunity that it presents.

What types of resources do you wish you had known about to help organize Molly’s gap year?

A gap year is not the standard path ... I think Molly’s college counselor just kind of scratched her head. Molly did a lot of the research, but I think it was hard to find resources.

I knew about gap year nights later, where the programs all got together ... we didn’t take advantage of that, I didn’t know about it at the time. It could have been a little different, and we were following Molly’s lead.

I know that when we decided that this was a good thing to do, somebody did approach us and say that there was a gap year consultant. We ended up not using her, but I would say definitely talk to somebody and find out what the programs are, find out what’s available, so it can be a meaningful year. You don’t want it to just be a resume-stuffing year, you want it to be something where the child grows and learns. Otherwise, why not just do another year of high school?

Who should take a gap year?

Sign me up, I want to take a gap year! I think it would benefit every student ... because you’re never going to have that time again ... you get caught up and it gets harder and harder to take that time.

College is so expensive and it’s a big commitment for a student and a family to take on so you want to make sure that you are ready, and by taking an extra year or some time ... I think you’ll go into your college time much more serious and much more settled.

They’re not for everybody and that’s fine, but if it is, if there’s a chance that’s something that the family wants to investigate, it’s a great option.

Learn more about having a successful gap year here.

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber