Gain Perspective and Maturity Before College
For some students, heading straight to college after high school just isn’t the right thing to do. They need a little more time to mature, or they have something they really want to pursue first, so they take what’s called a “gap year.” In my day (and possibly yours?), it was quite uncommon for a graduate to take a year off between high school and college, unless they were doing something like joining the military or the Peace Corps, and it wasn’t viewed very favorably. Times have changed! Today, many students are using a gap year to accomplish some pretty impressive things, and even colleges are looking favorably on this activity.
What is a Gap Year?
Typically lasting between 6 to 12 months, a gap year is a time when high school graduates work to gain experience before launching into their college career. Unless they take a college course during their gap year, students are typically still considered freshmen for the purposes of college admission and scholarships when they do enroll, but policies vary widely between colleges. Some colleges defer a student’s enrollment, but require application again the following year, while others (including some Ivy League colleges) will admit students, give them scholarships, encourage their gap year, and still give them freshman standing and scholarships when they return a year later!
Check Your College Policy
Because college policies vary so widely, it’s very important to make sure that your student does not get penalized for taking a gap year. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, it’s wise to contact several of the colleges your student is interested in and find out about their gap year policy. Don’t forget that policies do change over time, so try to make sure your student is “grandfathered in” if a college’s policies are slated to change. Do not plan on taking any high school or college courses during a gap year. That is usually not allowed.
Apply During Senior Year
If your student is considering a gap year, many colleges will require the student to submit their college applications during senior year. Make sure you include transcripts, reading lists, and course descriptions with your application, just as if they were intending to go from high school to college directly. Your student is unlikely to have the time to do all this work during their gap year, so doing it during high school will guarantee that it is done and ready for them to pursue when they return. Since some colleges consider a student to be a transfer student if they’ve been out of high school for a year, submitting your applications during senior year might help avoid this problem. Encourage your student to highlight their gap year plans in their application essays, and specifically discuss what they hope to accomplish. That way, colleges will be very clear about their intentions.
As you research colleges and learn about gap year policies, make sure that your student actually visits the colleges and has face-to-face discussions with the admissions department. This can go a long way towards showing the admissions staff that your student really is doing something important with their gap year, and not just goofing off. It’s also important to fill out the FAFSA, since that’s what colleges base their financial aid on. Hopefully, any financial aid awards you receive from a college will carry over to the next year when your student begins college. It would be very discouraging to return from a gap year to a situation where your student has been accepted to a college but is unable to afford attending due to financial aid problems.
If your child is going to community college, or taking “dual enrollment” college courses, provide that information along with the usual high school transcript and records. Make sure it’s clear to the colleges that your student is doing dual enrollment, and not post-high school college classes. College courses taken after graduation may jeopardize your child’s admission and scholarships. Before graduation, most college accept dual enrollment classes. After graduation, there should be no college courses during a gap year if you want to retain your freshman status.
Gap Year Experiences
Gap years tend to be more common in Europe than in the United States. According to Susan, a British student, “There are hundreds of organizations which offer gap year experiences, mostly abroad. Christian kids tend to do missions work with people like Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Rich kids will sometimes just go traveling. Some will go working through another country. We have two different young friends in Queensland at the moment, one working in Brisbane to see the country, another with YWAM. The way it works is you apply to university, and once accepted, you simply ‘defer’ your place for a year. Talking about what you plan to do in your Gap Year or putting it in your application gives very useful insight into your personality to the university. It’s all automatic.”
Who Takes a Gap Year?
Gap years work very nicely for several kinds of students. If a student needs a little more “seasoning” or maturing before they head off to university life, a gap year might be just the ticket. Other students who have a passionate interest in something and who would like to acquire some real-life experience also do well with gap years. Both kinds of students must be self-motivated, however, and come up with a plan, to avoid having the year become a waste of time. Gap years that turn into “couch potato” years are something to be avoided at all costs! If you think a gap year would be a good fit for your student, discuss the options together and pursue the possibilities with the colleges they are interested in.
Consider the idea of taking a Gap Year. It may be a wonderful way for your son or daughter to gain maturity and perspective before attending a university and living on campus.
Lee Binz is The HomeScholar. Her mission is “helping parents homeschool high school.” Her free mini-course, “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make When Homeschooling High School,” is a great introduction to high school essentials. Her free newsletter provides monthly encouragement and support. Her homeschool transcript solution teaches parents how to create high school transcripts for every homeschool style. You can get a daily dose of high school help at her blog, The HomeScholar Helper, recently voted as the “best homeschool business blog.” You can find Lee online at www.TheHomeScholar.com and on Facebook.com/TheHomeScholar