College Counseling & Planning      Orleans, MA. (774) 801-2449      Ashland, OR. (541) 488-0919
Jan was helpful from start to finish. The college process can be a huge ordeal and stressor, but with Janís...more
--Smith Freeman, Reed College, 2014; Holly Freeman, Reed College Parent

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YEAR OFF - A.K.A. 'GAP YEAR' - AN ALTERNATIVEFor many students the four years of high school 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, and sports have caused if not a burn out then at least a desire to seek a new adventure before tackling four years of college.

And so, instead of going right on to college a 'gap year' is a choice to consider. Not only is this a time for students to regroup and catch their breath, but it can also be a time of growing maturity, self-awareness, and new goal setting. College admission officers say that most gap year students arrive at college mature, experienced in the "real world" and ready to learn.

Many students use this year to explore careers and are better able to decide about their 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 or if none of the college acceptances are appealing, 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.

While this idea can cause sleepless nights and gray hairs for parents who fear that a gap year will deter their child from ever attending college, the benefits can outweigh the risks. Your student can arrive on campus a year older and hopefully a year wiser. Classes may be taken more seriously with an eye on the future goals of a career rather than the grade to get through the term. 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 the other college activities that can also give parents sleepless nights maybe less appealing.

It surprises some that many elite colleges, including Harvard and Yale, are delighted 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, the colleges want this year to have some substance and meaning in terms of personal growth and maturity. It is important to determine what it is that you want the year of interrupted education to do for you. Just to sleep late, avoid responsibility and purpose and generally drive parents to distraction is not an option!

Opportunities in public service, study/travel abroad (again with an educational purpose, not to be a bum), work and volunteer service might be considered. A "gap year," working in inner-city schools, maintaining national parks, or engaging in an experience-based program here and abroad are all programs that colleges would endorse.

Judith Christie
College Planning Consultants