How To Tell Your Parents You Want A Gap Year Instead Of Going To University.

Michael Huxley Simien National Park Ethiopia

Choosing what to do with your life after school or college can be difficult enough, but when you decide to not go to university and have a gap year instead, how do you tell your parents that? Will they be disappointed? Angry? Try and dissuade you? It depends on how you can sell the idea to them.

The social pressure is real, and it can be brutal. You have to follow a strict path in life, don’t you know? School, University, career, marriage, kids, bills, death.

You cannot deviate from that path.

The expectation that you will go straight to university from college and continue studying is almost universal now, but the truth is that it isn’t for everyone and the benefits of doing so have fallen a lot in the last decade, but those that go against that grain and decide to take a gap year can still really come up against a lot of opposition.

Most of this does come from a good place, your parents will want the best for you. They will be concerned you are wasting opportunities by skiving off around the world. They’ve heard all the media scaremongering and will be worried about your safety. They are probably worried sick about it. They’ll have a thousand excuses as to why you can’t or shouldn’t go, and should just pick a job or career or university instead.

But that doesn’t mean they are right, and that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

It’s your job to show them how much benefit you can get from a gap year and how good it will be for you and for your future, so here is how you can tell your parents you want to take a gap year instead of going to uni.

Michael Huxley Adventure Travel Aruba

Know Yourself And Make Yourself Heard.

I get it, it’s not easy, but you have to remember that this is your life and no one else’s. Only you get to decide what you do with it and if this is something you want to do then you have to show your parents that you are no longer a child, you have your own mind, know what you want and are going to follow your dream of taking a gap year to travel.

But Convince Them You Have A Sensible Head On Your Shoulders.

At the same time you don’t want to just stamp your feet and say this is what you want. Show them that you have genuinely put a lot of thought into this, show them that there are pros and cons but on balance you think it will be a good thing for you and show them why. Impress them with your measured, reasoned logic, not your plans to strip naked and drink everything in sight at the next full moon party on Kho Phangan. (What happens in Kho Phangan …)

A big part of this is listening to their concerns and knowing how exactly to counteract each and every one of them, remember most of them are coming out of a place of love and nervousness.

Tell Them A Gap Year Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Want Anything Else.

A gap year is just that, a gap year, not a decision that means you will never do anything with your life ever again. Traditionally it has generally been a break in between college and university or college and work, and that is all it can be. Tell them you still plan on going to university or applying for those jobs or following that career path, this is just something you want to do first. It will all be there waiting for you when you get back.

Tell Them It Will Help You Decide On Your Path In Life.

You may very well have a career in mind after college or you may want to apply to university to gain your degree, but if you don’t that is okay and it is important to remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking just a little bit of time to think about things and make sure that is exactly what you want to do. After all your degree and your career are pretty big life choices, right?

You don’t want to decide on a university degree, go through all the expense, debt and stress of that first year, and then decide you didn’t want this career path after all.

And there is nothing at all wrong with saying you just aren’t ready for that part of your life yet either. There is nothing wrong with saying you still haven’t made your mind up! Hell, most people don’t figure out what the hell they really want to do with their life until well into their late twenties or even thirties! There is no shame in figuring things out when you have just left college!

Just remember that there is no wrong path in life and there is nothing wrong at all with changing your mind and moving paths at any time. What you decide to do with your life is up to you but your choices are never set in stone. It just makes sense to take the time to assess what you want. Your parent’s can’t argue with the logic that taking the time to make the best decision for your life is a good idea.

Tell Them You Want To Be Sure Of And Fully Commit To Your Studies.

You can always add in the very simple fact that you just need a break too. You have spent the better part of a decade in school and college, all those years studying, sitting exam after exam and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of teenage years at the same time. You are burnt out. You want to party.

Tell your parents that most students start uni and then waste most of their first year in the student bar because they need to blow off all that steam and are drunk not just on alcohol but on their very first taste of freedom. You are of course far more sensible than that. You want to get all of that out of your system so that when you do go to university you won’t feel the need to let it all go and can simply concentrate on your studies.

Tell Them A Gap Year Can Help Boost Your CV.

This is a great one. Having a gap year can be a real boon to your burgeoning CV if you spin it right. University applications often do a lot better when they see people have had a little life experience on a gap year, with many now even offering course credit for them dependent on what you do and employers really love a lot of the soft skills lot of the soft skills that you can gain when travelling.

This is particularly true if you plan on spending a few months of your year long adventure doing some genuine volunteering somewhere (and no I don’t just mean a voluntourism package). Apart from a very commendable attitude of wanting to make the world a better place, an attitude that they should be immeasurably proud of, the practical skills and experience look great on those job applications later down the line.

Tell Them You Want Some Life Experience.

Travelling the world independently is probably one of the best and most comprehensive ways for you to learn about yourself, grow as a person and gain some solid life experience, and telling your parents that it is time you stand on your own two feet and do just that is something they will find it very hard to argue with.

It is a common truth amongst backpackers that for those people who do take a gap year after college usually come back more self confident, well rounded and more mature, and much more likely to succeed at academia or in their careers as a result.

Show Them You Have A Plan.

Whilst your mum is probably in tears at your gap year announcement and is imagining all sorts of kidnapping and murder scenarios as you try and calm her down, your dad is probably thinking of ways he can hide his credit card from you and trying to remember just how much he has stashed away in that secret savings account.

Telling them that you have a plan to work, earn and save up the money you need to travel will not only reduce your dad’s sudden spike in blood pressure, but will also show them that you are serious about this and have a solid plan to put it into action that doesn’t rely on them paying for it all. And that makes a huge difference!

Tell Them It Is Safe.

Michael Huxley Travel In Dangerous Countries

This is a big one, because a lot of most parents concerns around their children taking a gap year are based on the perception that travel is dangerous. In fact the absolute majority of people I speak to on my gap year safety course are parents themselves, or group sessions with parents involved, so it is safe to say that you will need to address their fears at some point.

The mass media does nothing to help calm parents perceptions by sensationalizing every rare incident when something does go terribly wrong, but the fact is that the world is in general a pretty safe place, the absolute majority of travellers do head off on their around the world adventure and come back safe and sound without any problems, and the simple fact is crime rates are probably as high, if not higher in your home country than in many of the countries backpackers will traditionally head to.

These are all absolute facts that no one can argue with, but what will really ease your parents fears is if you have a solid plan to reduce any potential risk for your own personal safety by following some basic common sense precautions, put in place a robust system to stay in touch and let them know where you are and that you are safe and have a back up plan if things do go wrong.

Sit them down and go through all of this with them. Show them some of the travel safety articles on this site with the facts and figures they can’t argue with, show them that statistically the world is very safe, and then talk through your plans with them.

Check out my gap year safety book range, full of expert advice and tips on how to reduce, avoid or deescalate any potential risk and avoid the most common scams, troubles and pitfalls backpackers come across and helpful, first hand advice on how you can travel the world safely. 

Tell Them It Will All Be Fine.

A gap year is not the end of the world that many parents make it out to be. Those college and university years are brutal, probably more so now than when I was going through them.

You are figuring things out, figuring yourself out, that is completely natural.

So you want to take a gap year to live the cliche and ‘find yourself’. Well that’s okay, it is a cliche for a reason because we all have to go through that phase at some point and taking a gap year is the perfect way to do that.

Just because you want to take a little time for yourself doesn’t mean that you have abandoned all plans to go to university or get a good degree, you have just deferred them for a year. You won’t be the first and you won’t be the last. Hell, so many people do it all university’s even have a standard deferment process!

At the end of the day your parents only want the best for you but only you can make those decisions for yourself. This is your life. Go and live it.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Reassuring Parents About Your Gap Year Plans.

Study, Work, Career And Gap Years, The Middle Way.

What To Do After Your A Levels, There Is No Wrong Path.

What Type Of Volunteer Are You?

What You Need To Consider Before Volunteering On Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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20 comments on “How To Tell Your Parents You Want A Gap Year Instead Of Going To University.
  1. Kobi says:

    I am currently finishing up college and feel that I am not ready to go to uni yet. I am not completely against the idea I’m just not sure what to do yet, but I have been wanting to take a gap year since I was in school. I was talking to my mum about it and she is just flat out refusing to listen to me saying that I won’t ever go to uni and she is not willing to even enter into a discussion. She thinks that after school is education then career, no compromise at all.
    She is refusing to listen and I really don’t know what to do.

    • That’s a hard situation to be in mate and I understand you may not want to go against your parents but at the end of the day this is your life and your choice. No one can or should decide for you. I am assuming you are or will be 18 soon, so your life is yours to choose. I would suggest sitting your mum down, taking her through these talking points and then if she still isn’t listening just calmly explain that you have done your best but it isn’t her choice. She will come around eventually.

  2. Mihir says:

    I took a Gap Year because I couldn’t find a uni degree that excited me, I wasn’t sure what career I wanted and at the time I wasn’t convinced that going to uni was right for me, so I didn’t, especially with the debt that comes with it now. I was lucky that both my parents were really supportive of my choices. During my gap year I had time to think and realised that uni wasn’t for me at all but am now pursuing a career which I love and am also saving up for another year or two away as a career break (love your articles on that too). Uni isn’t everything, expanding your mind through travel is.

  3. bcre8v2 says:

    Great article. I wish more kids would do this! During his junior year in high school (US), out son told us that he wanted to backpack through Europe after graduation instead of going to college. Without any hesitation, we agreed. We knew–and he knew–college would always be there, but this time of life–no commitments and crazy confidence–would be fleeting. He saved his money and got more as graduation gifts, did his research, and three months after he high school ended he headed to Europe. He was gone until his money ran out, but lasted 8 months. His plans before he left Ohio were quickly scrapped after he met more young backpackers and learned about the best hostels and the best cities for partying. He made many friends and was a changed person when he returned. Best experience in the world for him. When he went to college, he was ready, and the travel bug has never left him.

  4. Mica Nestorovska says:

    Great article. Unfortunately not everyone can see the benefits a gap year or travel can give you.

  5. Ben says:

    Some great advice and insights here, I think the biggest point is that it is YOUR life and YOUR decision.

  6. Hayley says:

    It genuinely still surprises me how much opposition and misunderstanding there is around gap years. Every step of our lives is so regimented with designated steps that we have to go through, school, college, uni, work … I mean how can a break from that possibly be seen as a bad thing?

  7. Leanne says:

    Love the message in the video. No wrong path, that is SO spot on

  8. Nat says:

    Great advice, wish I had support like this when I left for my gap year! My parents were not supportive at all when I went.

  9. Angela says:

    This was so helpful thank you. I didn’t do quite as well in my A Levels as I thought I would, still well enough to get into uni but only just and I think that is because I was so burnt out. So I have decided to defer uni and go travelling for 6 months (it will take 6 months to save up) but this really helped me explain the decision and they are really supportive over it.

    • That’s great to hear Angela! And well done on your results, if they were good enough to get into uni then they were good enough, you don’t need to put more pressure on yourself than that. I think taking time off from it will do you a lot of good the same way it did me and many others. If uni is still what you want after it then it will still be there next year. Good luck with your saving and have a great time!

  10. Layla says:

    Super helpful! Thanks for this.

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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