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Ask the Experts: Gap Year

By Peterson's Staff updated on Sunday, January 27, 2013

Question We may consider a year of travel or mission etc for my son instead of going directly to college. How is that viewed by admissions? Good or bad? Does anything change as far as the admission process? - Harrison

AnswerWe are strong advocates for students taking a year off between college and high school. There are many reasons to do so, including letting off steam, maturing, pursuing particular interests, and so on. There are two main ways to approach this.

One is through a deferral year. In this instance, your son would apply to college as if he's heading there after high school. Once he has his admission offers in hand, he would commit to one school in which he is interested by May 1 of senior year. Then, at some later time, but probably before July and before putting down all or a large part of his first year's tuition, he would write a letter requesting to defer his entrance for a semester or year, typically with some type of plan in mind which he would outline. Most colleges would accept the deferral, though you should check the fine print for all the colleges to which he is applying to make sure they don't rule it out completely (few do).

The second approach is to plan on a gap year. Unlike a deferral year, the downside is that the student now has to worry about how the gap year will affect future college admissions, and must utilize the summer and a lot of the fall after graduating high school to complete the college admissions process. This can work well for a student who is unready to apply to colleges during senior year of high school, and/or wants to show academic and possibly activity progress (sports are big here) from a completed senior year prior to sending in applications. Then, one can structure multiple, exciting, and valuable gap year activities both to facilitate growth and progress, and to have a positive effect on admissions evaluators.

We should mention a third option for a gap year, which is a post-graduate year at a boarding school. A more structured, academic year, this facilitates a student's applying to colleges with additional academic foundation building as well as, possibly, strengthening a sport or other major interest.

 

Question My daughter, who will start her senior year this fall, wants to take a year off before going to college. She would use this year for worthwhile activities, and wants to take the time to solidify her goals in order to more accurately define what she wants from her college education and therefore to make a more educated choice about where to go and what course of study to pursue. Can you please tell me the ramifications of this course of action in terms of her eventual acceptance to college? In other words, will it impact school's admission decisions positively or negatively or not at all? - Pam

AnswerA so-called "gap" year is becoming more common in the U.S., but most students who are college-bound from high school still prefer to enter college immediately. We are great fans of the gap year, either in the form of a deferral of an admission offer, or in terms of taking an extra year to improve one's record and focus prior to applying to colleges.

In other words, your daughter could apply to some colleges this year, and then if she gains admission to a college she likes, she can still ask the school to defer her admission for a year. Most colleges will approve this request, especially if she has a good plan in mind for her year off. She would ask the college for the deferral in May or June of her senior year, once the admission process is over. We often encourage students to suspend judgment for a time, and to go through the college admissions process, thereby possibly opening up some exciting options that might be of interest in the spring, if and when she decides she might indeed want to go directly to college.

Alternately, some students do decide to delay applications, and this is really a fine choice to make in terms of long-term admissions options. She must focus during her senior year, and do as well as possible, while also completing standardized test requirements and asking for teacher recommendations by the end of senior year. That will give her the freedom during her gap year to focus on her activities, and on the application process, while applying from a strong academic foundation.

A good plan, perhaps consisting of several varied activities, is important. Work, volunteerism, study abroad — she can combine several options, and then will need to write about them compellingly to explain to colleges why she took the year off, and what she has learned from it. She won't have as much support from her high school in her year off, so she'll need to be more independent during the admissions process, but, again, if done well and for the right reasons, a gap year can be productive, fulfilling, and, yes, positive in terms of college admissions.

 

Question I am graduating from high school this year and do not think i am ready to go on to college. I would like to spend a year or two in Europe before going back to school. Are there any programs that i could attend abroad that would be the equivalent of a 13th year? - Julie

AnswerYes, there are some exciting options abroad for a PG year or a gap year prior to entering college. One strategy you could follow would be to apply to colleges this year, and, if you are admitted, then ask for a deferral from the college. This would allow you to go abroad for a PG year or a combination of study, travel, and work/service, without having to worry about applying to colleges during your year away. 

Another option is to apply to PG programs abroad, such as the American School in Switzerland (TASIS) or TASIS in London, the many international schools around Europe, and some of the American schools abroad (many of these work well if they have the International Baccalaureate, or IB, curriculum). Some of the European and U.K. schools (sometimes called colleges) also admit American students for one year of additional "A level" study after high school and before college. The Oxford Advanced Study Program offers a specific PG year for international students in England.  

One thing to watch out for is the following. If you enter full-time, university-level study, you will be ineligible to apply to American colleges as a freshman (first-year) applicant. You will automatically be deemed a transfer applicant, and this will change your process, as fewer transfer spots are usually available. If you take a deferral year, you will usually be prohibited from attending a university home or abroad as a full-time student.

 

Question Is financial aid usually available for these programs? - Allison

 

AnswerSometimes aid is available for PG students, but usually only if you are an outstanding student, athlete, musician, artist, etc. Most schools have a limited financial aid budget, and don't make too much aid available for PG's, compared to those students they enroll for three or four years. But getting financial assistance for a PG year is possible, and worth attempting.

 

Question I like you to acquaint me with what it takes to embark on a Degree programme abroad. I wish to major in Arts, possibly Accounting or Banking and Finance. - Akobi

 

AnswerMany international students utilize a PG year to acclimate themselves to the U.S. educational system and improve their English language skills. This can help them prepare for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, TOEFL), take an advanced pre-college curriculum for a year prior to college, prepare American college applications with the assistance of an experienced guidance counselor, and spend the fall visiting campuses they might not have been able to see if they remained in their home country.  

International students bring desirable diversity to boarding school campuses, and if they are academically qualified, and potentially add other skill sets and contributions to campus, they can be quite sought after by American boarding schools, many of which actively recruit abroad, from Costa Rica to Korea to Africa.

 

Question How do i find out where i could attend the "13th grade" if i have been out of school for 3 years? - drew

 

AnswerWhen we refer to a 13th grade program, we have in mind an additional year of study immediately after graduation from high school. The post graduate year is an excellent opportunity for the student who has his or her high school diploma and plans to enroll in college but may not be ready for this transition for one or more reasons. In today's college environment of social freedom, academic choices and demands, and competitive athletics, the extra year of study in a more structured setting in which to mature socially, build stronger academic skills and particular subject foundation, and, for some students, to enhance their athletic skills and experience, can be very beneficial. However, if you have been out of school for three years you are too old for this traditional thirteenth year model. If you have your high school diploma or have passed the GED you are likely to be best served by enrolling at a local community college.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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