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Consider a gap year

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

Does taking a year off before heading to college make sense for your child?

Is it time for them to get off the treadmill of a competitive high school and the stressful college admissions process? Is it possible they could benefit from a little maturity before you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars on their college education?

These are great questions parents and students should be asking themselves as they approach the senior year in high school.

Students and parents thinking about taking a gap year between high school and college generally fall into three very different camps:

1. The over-stressed, over-achiever who needs to take a deep breath.

2. The adventurous, more self-aware child who recognizes that a year off is a great opportunity for self-discovery and exciting experiences.

3. Parents of students who are nervous their child will not take college seriously, will party too much and may even flunk out. These parents feel that their child is simply not ready for the independence, they don’t have the discipline to study and they fear that their hard-earned money may go to waste.

Most students who take a gap year put together a patchwork quilt of experiences; they may work to earn money for future experiences or they may participate in options such as: language immersion, intern, teach or travel abroad, conservation and sustainability projects, volunteer and/or perform community service.

Some colleges such as Harvard and Princeton encourage their students to take a gap year once they’ve been accepted.

Princeton has created a “Bridge Year” program for freshmen where they spend nine months focusing on community service and cultural immersion in China, India, Peru or Senegal.

What to do if this sounds like a good idea and you’re interested in taking a gap year? Continue with the college application process. Research each college’s policy regarding gap years and deferrals. Apply as if you were planning to attend college in the fall of 2014 and once accepted you’ll need to request a deferral. Most colleges are pleased to extend a one year deferral as long as the student has a written plan of what they will be doing during their year off.

Do your gap year research. There is a tremendous variety in programs and experiences. Don’t assume that a gap year is only for wealthy families. Discuss plans with your high school counselor. A gap year should be viewed as a privilege, not a punishment. The student should be able to articulate why taking a gap year is a good option for them.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.
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