"Her stress and anxiety are half what it would be."
As a gap year parent, I found the experience to be an excellent transition for both my daughter and myself as a parent into the new chapter of our lives when she headed off to college.
My daughter received a scholarship to study Mandarin for one year in Beijing. While we did not get to see her for ten months, we were also not responsible for the onerous task we are now facing of paying her tuition. The extra year proved invaluable to us for planning and preparing for this new financial commitment.
The most important part of the experience, however, is what she learned while on her gap year. She lived apart from us for an entire year without the added pressures of rigorous college classes. As she is heading into her freshman year, being away from home is not a new experience so I think her stress and anxiety are half what it would be if this were her first stint away from home.
Some gap years may not involve travel, but many do. Our daughter's took her to a different culture, immersed her in a different language, and forced her to engage with a different perspective on the world. Students who go straight from high school to college may carry the momentum they have built up as diligent, and conscientious students, but they may be missing the perspective gained by traveling, working, or studying outside of the classroom. Key to this is that they may not develop a sense of value for what they learn in class other than the rewards of grades and accolades. Those that travel and work for a year can see how knowledge and skills (such as writing, speaking, critical thinking) are applied in professional and informal settings. I believe that these students will enter college with the ability to quickly grasp applications of what they are learning, which will foster their abilities to retain that knowledge beyond the confines of a semester.
Perhaps most importantly, I think my daughter developed a sense of humor about herself. She had to. She had to dig deep during weekends cooped in a tiny car with eight family members, dining on pig intestines for three days straight, and being confined to her room for weeks at a time because of pollution levels. She found in self-directed humor a positive source of resilience that is going to save her time and time again.