Gap year programs, yes or no?

By Sarah Soule

As area seniors put the finishing touches on their college applications and prepare for graduation in June, some students are contemplating the idea of a gap year prior to pursuing higher education. Many students feel ready to head straight to college upon completing their high school studies while others opt to take some time off before diving into academics in college.

Students considering a gap year have a myriad of options. Most students apply to college while still enrolled in high school and await the outcome before finalizing plans to pursue a gap year.  For those students who are intending on taking a gap year and have not yet applied to college, it is wise to meet with your school counselor and review the important steps of planning for college admission. She or he can help guide you as to the appropriate resources.

Former President Barack Obama’s daughter, Malia, took a gap year; she participated in a program called “Where There Be Dragons” in South America before starting her freshman year at Harvard University. The choices are limited only by a student’s imagination: Students can do community service, travel, trek, intern, focus on improving world language skills, and participate in cultural immersion. Programs vary in length and many offer academic credit, which could be potentially transferred to the college, or university where the student will ultimately enroll.

Most colleges will gladly honor a student’s request to delay their offer of admission if the applicant requests to participate in a gap year. To do this, students must formally submit a letter of request and once approved, a deposit must be paid to secure a place in the following fall’s freshman class. In its acceptance letters to incoming students, Harvard actually encourages applicants to consider taking a year off prior to enrolling.

Some gap programs are the approximately length of a college semester, rather than a whole year. Students could then use the second half of the year to enroll in college courses, find employment or participate in an internship. One caveat, if taking college courses: be sure to check with the college you are planning to attend to ensure that they will accept the transfer credits.

An effective gap year program will offer opportunities for growth, a time to focus and explore an area of interest, added maturity, and readiness for higher education.

One helpful website with links to many gap year programs is usagapyearfairs.org.

Sarah Soule, of Shelburne, is the post-secondary planning coordinator at Middlebury Union High School. She has worked in college admissions counseling for more than 30 years.

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