Go surfing — then go to college

Instead of going to college next year, Deborah Dunham’s son plans to surf the world. Putting college on hold is the right decision for her son, who loves adventure but lacks education and career goals, Dunham writes in Forbes. College is too expensive to be just for “finding” yourself. Her son will go to college when he’s ready.

In the meantime, my husband and I agree that he should catch all the waves he can.

. . . even though Bradley is already working and saving up for his adventure (we will support his travels, but not fund them), he does still have his eyes on the future. In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about ways to marry his passions and talents—like photography and videography of surfing and travel—with a career.

In some countries, it’s not unusual to take a “gap year” between high school and college for work, travel, sports and adventure. But there’s a risk: Once off the college track, Bradley may never get on it. He could find himself as a beach bum — probably a happy one. Or he could show up at college in a few years knowing who he is and what he wants to learn.

About Joanne


  1. In 1983 I graduated from an American High school on an American Air Force base in England. My plans for the year after graduation involved a 10 speed bike, a Eurail pass and youth hostels. In March of my senior year, my counselor called me in to inquire as to what schools I had been accepted to. She nearly had a hear attack when she learned I hadn’t applied to any. She called my dad in, he forced me to fill out an application, and somehow six weeks later I received an acceptance letter from USC, so they shipped me 8,000 miles home to Los Angeles.

  2. In the days when it wasn’t impossible to work your way through college (particularly if you could get a high-paying summer job, like construction), going to college without having much idea of what you really wanted to accomplish there was one thing. Today, it’s quite another.

  3. GoogleMaster says:

    “Her son will go to college when he’s ready.”

    Wow, is the generation of diapered four-year-olds about whom it was said, “he’ll potty train when he’s ready” old enough for college now?

  4. Those who “get off the college track” by taking a gap year probably shouldn’t have thought about going to college in the first place.

    • SuperSub says:

      Two things –
      With the proliferation of degree majors and the significant discrepancy between the values of various degrees…it is even more important to be carefully selective about what major to select. Many careers are tightly bound to specific degrees, and the only hope to reach that career is to select wisely. Mistakes can be financially devastating, as so many 20-somethings are discovering in this economy. The standard high school senior is not equipped to make that decision, and is often pushed into programs by naive parents and overzealous and overoptomistic counselors.

      Secondly…high schoolers are extremely immature compared to past generations. They’ve led lives strictly guided by their parents and the smorgasbord of extracurricular activities they’ve needed to be competitive in their applications…many of them haven’t had a thought of their own that didn’t revolve around alcohol, marijuana, or sex. They haven’t been employed, haven’t had to clean up their own messes, and haven’t had to worry about the necessities, and freedoms, associated with being an adult. These experiences promote the maturity required to succeed in college.
      That being said, I’m not promoting a year-long vacation. The post features surfing, but the parents seem to be holding the teen responsible for his choices so he can learn about both the costs and rewards that result.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    Teens surprise you, though. A year ago I thought a gap might be the way to go with my oldest. He’s a capable but not terribly enthusiastic student. He had no idea what he wanted to be or focus on in college. But, then, he did some volunteer work at the YMCA teaching special needs kids to swim (he’s a certified lifeguard and swim instructor). He loved it, and after talking and working with the physical therapists associated with the program, now wants to become a PT and specialize in aqua therapy. He’s been researching undergrad and grad schools with strong programs and got more serious about his grades because he wants to get into a good school.

    After he mentioned it to me and my husband, it seemed like a very obvious choice considering his personality, likes, and abilities. Sooooo, you never know. 🙂

  6. Some gap years can work to support the anticipated college major. A relative asked her college choice, after acceptance, for a year’s delay. She spent a year in Mexico, living with a family and taking a few college courses (in Spanish), which was very helpful for her college Spanish major. By the time she finished her junior year in Spain, she had high-level fluency.