College Counseling & Planning      Orleans, MA. (774) 801-2449      Ashland, OR. (541) 488-0919
Jan is more then a college consultant; she is a friend and a mentor. I worked with her as a...more
--Hannah Ewing, Kenyon College, 2015

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TO GAP OR NOT TO GAP. THAT IS THE QUESTION May 1st is fast approaching and decisions have to be made. What do you do if you still are not sure and cannot make up your mind? Perhaps your ideas about what you expected of your college experience have changed, perhaps you no longer find the colleges who accepted you appealing, or perhaps you are just plain burned out.

For many students the high school years have been a grueling time of constant hard work and pressure. For some the fierce competition of applying to competitive colleges has taken its toll. The marathon of stress, multiple advanced placement courses, SAT preparation, extracurricular activities, community service obligations, sports, and if parents are lucky, doing a little work around the house, have caused if not a burn out then at least a desire to seek a new experience before tackling four years of college.

Taking a year off, or as it is commonly called a ‘gap year’, is a suggested solution to this state of affairs. It can be a time for students to regroup and catch their breath, but it can also be a time to mature, to develop greater self-awareness, and to explore or confirm education and career goals. College admission officers report that most gap year students arrive at college more mature, experienced in the "real world" and ready to learn. Many students use this year to explore careers and are better able to choose a major. What a great boost, if a student can make that decision before hand and not waste valuable time and money. If a student’s high school career was less than stellar this can be an opportunity to better their admissions chances the second time around. It can also be a time to earn money for college.

It surprises some that many elite colleges, including Harvard and Yale are delighted with and even encourage a year off. And many colleges like Haverford, Lewis and Clark and Reed are seeing an increase in the number of students who are requesting this option. Before students get excited about spending a year of lolling in front of the TV watching soaps let me add that in most cases, if not all, colleges want this year to have some substance and meaning in terms of personal growth and maturity. Opportunities in public service, study/travel abroad (with an educational purpose, not to be a bum), work and volunteer service are worth considering for a ‘gap year’. Determining ahead of time what you want the year of interrupted education to accomplish is essential. Just to sleep late, avoid responsibility and generally drive parents to distraction is not an option!

While this idea can cause sleepless nights for parents who fear that a year off will deter their child from ever attending college, relax - the benefits can outweigh the risks. Your student can arrive on campus a year older and maybe a year wiser. Hopefully with new found maturity classes will be taken more seriously with more interest in meeting academic goals and intellectual challenge instead of what grade will satisfy the professor. This in turn may mean that instead of looking at tuition payments for five or six years your student may graduate in four! After a year in the real world, partying and drinking and other college activities that can also give parents even more gray hairs may be less appealing.

If the right match college isn’t apparent to you from your list of acceptances, do some soul searching and have a reality check – maybe you just are not ready.

Judith Christie
College Planning Consultants