Katherine Stievater, Founder, Gap Year Solutions
Gap Years and the College Process can be confusing. When I speak with high school audiences, the number one request I get is for more information on Gap Year options – what can students do during a Gap Year? A close second is how to think about Gap Year planning relative to college planning. That is the topic of today’s third and final post summarizing key parts of my Discover Gap Years! talk. (You can find the first two parts in the series on the main Blog page and in links at the end below.)
Part 3: Gap Years & College Planning
I focus on four main points when talking about the intersection of Gap Years and the college process. I’ll throw in a bonus fifth point here, given where we are in the high school calendar for seniors. (Hint: any time is a good time to think about a Gap Year!)
1. Start Brainstorming
For any high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are the slightest bit curious about a Gap Year or more seriously considering one, I suggest you start to research! Just do a simple internet search for Gap Year information, and many high schools have links on their website (good examples: Yorktown High School, Arlington, VA and The Hotchkiss School). The Gap Year Solutions Resources page has links to many articles and videos to give students a great start on just learning the basics about Gap Years. Students should continue their normal college planning during this time – making their list of schools, visiting campuses, talking to alums, etc.
2. Finish College Applications
Even if students are completely sure they want to take a Gap Year, I strongly recommend that they apply to colleges in the fall of senior year. It is a good idea to go through the college application process while still in high school, since students have full access to teachers and school counselors for recommendations, and the counseling office for transcripts, Naviance and other support. Most other students are also going through the same process at the same time, so there’s lots of moral support! Students should focus on their college applications until they are fully submitted in November or December/January. It’s okay to put the Gap Year thinking a bit on hold during this time so students can put their best foot forward for college applications. Once you hit “submit” for the last time, the fun begins!
3. Start Gap Year Planning
While some students certainly put a lot of thought into their Gap Year plan before senior year, most really aren’t sure what they will do. Once the apps are in, it’s time to dig in and start to put serious thought into Gap Year goals, interests and budget. For students considering structured programs in the fall (2-3 months travel with small groups of students and program leaders), it is good to try to make decisions by April, since the most popular programs could fill up early. It’s good to think about the spring of a Gap Year in the context of overall goals, but no need to finalize anything because more than likely things will change! Either way, my goal with my students is to have the fall of their Gap Year planned before they graduate.
4. Deferring College Admission
After the final admissions decisions arrive in March/early April, students considering a Gap Year have until “Decision Day” on May 1 to do a couple things. One, put down a (usually) non-refundable deposit for their chosen college or university, and two, apply for a Gap Year deferral. Some schools push the deadline to apply for a Gap Year deferral to June 1, so check with your school to get the actual process (see our post on Applying for a Deferral for more details on the deferral process). For students who elected to wait until their Gap Year to apply to schools, obviously this is not an issue.
5. It’s Never Too Late to Start!
Now for the bonus item! Given that I am writing this in late March, those seniors out there that may be disappointed with their college admissions decisions or are now thinking they’d like to consider a Gap Year for any reason, know that it is NOT TOO LATE! If the right decision for you is to delay the start of college and take advantage of this time to work on yourself, then that’s what you should do, and the rest will all work out. I work with students who are days away from stepping onto campus for freshman year and they make a last minute decision to take a Gap Year. And if you’re worried about certain popular Gap year programs filling up for the fall, don’t worry – there are always great options that I can find for my students.