For better or for worse, the question we ask of our high school seniors tends to be “Where are you going to college?” and not “When are you going to college?”. In many parts of the country, it’s assumed that graduating seniors will be entering a college of some sort (whether it be a community college, a state school, or a private institution) just a few short months later. As we rapidly approach enrollment deadline season, it’s time to start asking if now is the best time for your child to be packing their bags.
I fully understand that it’s my job to guide students from high school to college. Trust me when I say that I’m not encouraging hesitant college-hopefuls to give up the search and resolve to a life without higher education. The Grateful Dead are long gone, so any hope of following them on tour around the country through one’s 20’s is unfortunately useless. What I’m suggesting is a short break between high school graduation and college enrollment. A semester or two can make a real difference for some.
Now, before you go and refund your child’s enrollment deposit, it’s essential to sit down with them and discuss their options. For those who might be experiencing sudden cold feet, a gap year might not make much difference. The same goes for students who are having second thoughts about their major, school choice, or roommate. These are largely reconcilable concerns that a little can-do attitude (and a chat with their Admissions Counselor).
Obviously, there are a number of drawbacks to waiting a year to enroll at a college. You know by now how much I love lists, so let’s cut to the chase:
Institution practices are shaped to fit a traditional model: College admission departments design their activities and programs around the assumption that most students do not take a gap year. College fairs, high school visits, Open House, Accepted Student Day, and Orientation are all scheduled to align with the needs of high school students and their parents. The application process also typically requires a number of documents that rely on a student’s relationship with their high school. If your child is planning on taking a gap year, consider contacting their guidance counselor for a copy of their official transcript and a letter of recommendation. Acquiring those documents after graduation isn’t impossible by any means, but it’s far easier to get it done early and have the files on hand.
Going to school ISN’T like riding a bike: Momentum is everything in learning. We’ve all heard of the dreaded “summer slide” that robs students of their mental acuity after a season without studying. There are studies which suggest that the “slide” isn’t as damning as once thought, but the truly troublesome bit comes from breaking a habit of education. Retraining oneself to wake up on time, get to class, take meaningful notes, study, and complete assignments can be a real drag. Be mindful of letting a gap year turn into gap years.
The work/school balance: Unless your student is financially sound enough to take a year off without any form of income, exiting high school might necessitate employment on their end. Depending on the nature of the work, it might become problematic or detrimental to walk away from their occupation to pursue education at a later date. Falling into the rhythm of regular employment leads us back into my last point: momentum towards a college degree gets lost all too easily.
There are plenty of upsides to taking a short break before starting a college degree program. At the end of the day, it’s our duty to ensure that our children and students are making progress and growing into productive, happy adults. Whether it takes a year of soul-searching abroad, a semester working a part-time job, or a few weeks on a road trip with friends, it’s essential that there be some kind of personal progress being made. When they’re finally ready, you know who to send their college application to.