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29 Mar, 2018   |   

Life After High School: 5 Alternatives to Traditional University for My Teen

Not everyone is ready to go to university right after high school…and that’s okay. In fact, taking a gap year before committing time and funds to higher education is becoming more and more common. While there are no exact numbers on how many young adults are opting for a gap year, the Gap Year Association says that interest and enrollment in gap year programs is growing substantially and they have seen gap year fair attendance increase by 294 percent since 2010. Just ask Malia Obama, daughter of Barack Obama, President Emeritus of the United States, who spent her gap yearvolunteering and visiting multiple continents before enrolling at Harvard.

That time in between schools is an ideal opportunity for your child to find their life’s passion, develop some real-world experiences, and plan for their future. Here are a few ideas for how your child can spend their gap year break before a post-secondary education.


Take the time to travel the world! Of course, it sounds luxurious and frivolous, and yet, as businesses embrace a global economy there are endless benefits to understanding world cultures. Traveling abroad immerses your child into different cultures, foods, and languages, all of which can help give them a more global perspective. No classroom or textbooks will give them the same education as this.

Life experiences, as some would say, are as important as getting an education. At this stage in your child’s life, they are free from the ties of family, mortgages, and careers. It may be the only time in their lives when they will have the opportunity to travel for months at a time and form a global perspective.


Younger generations are known for being more environmentally and socially conscious. In fact, according toThe Millennial Impact Report, millennials are a charitable generation who believe that they can leave the world a better place than they found it.

Volunteering provides young people an ideal opportunity to discover their interests or passions. It’s also an opportunity to build people skills, learn teamwork and develop a sense of self (all of which stand out on a resume). There are a variety of organizations that need daily volunteer help, ranging from the American Red Cross to the Peace Corps.


If a four-year university doesn’t seem like the right fit for your teen, encourage them to specialize in a certain field by going to a vocational or tradesman school. In fact, skilled tradesman in the United States are in demand as baby boomers enter the sunset of their careers. Valuable vocations such as electricians, woodworkers, machinists and maintenance workers are in high demand. It’s been reported that more than 60% of U.S. firms struggle to fill important skilled trade positions.

These are fairly easy and quick degrees to earn that can provide a platform for a variety of well-paying jobs.


There are plenty of options for your child after graduating from high school, and lying on the couch all day probably isn’t a choice most parents support. As a result, finding gainful employment is always a solid solution for your recent graduate. In fact, in the United States, the number of hourly workers has risen 15% in the past 20 years and there’s no sign this trend will turn around.

For the students interested in bolstering their resume and creating a story should they decide to attend university, internships offer another unique opportunity. Many businesses will hire “interns” as part-time help, while providing valuable professional experience for your child.  Internships and entry-level roles offer your child the ability to gain beneficial life skills, like accountability, self-confidence, and problem solving.


Suggest participating in a gap year program in between schooling. There are a variety of benefits, like leadership and career skills, that can be acquired by participating in a gap year program. Many of these programs offer young adults the opportunity to gain college credit while participating. At Up with People, we offer academic credit opportunities as well as participant internships and scholarships for those involved. A sense of new adventure with a gap year program is not only refreshing, but offers an opportunity for your child to gain more responsibility and independence.

There are a variety of choices for your teen beyond traditional university that will enhance their development, maturity, and life skills. With research, planning, and support, this life-changing decision could prove to have a positive impact.

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