Gap Years According to a College Counselor

by Katherine Stievater

We have a colleague in the Boston area who provides college counseling services to some of our students. In a recent conversation, she summarized some of her views about Gap Years. We thought her perspective would be helpful to share, as it is coming from someone who works with so many students!

Gap Year vs. Going Straight to College

  • College is for students who have the grades, motivation, and a good work ethic. Either a student is ready to go to college and be serious about academics or they’re not. “If a kid is not ready they are NOT ready!”
  • Don’t rely on transferring to another college if a student who really isn’t ready goes anyway. It is painful to get Cs and Ds and so difficult to transfer anywhere with those grades – that process can end up taking two years.
  • Students who have not fully applied themselves in high school, have a mediocre record, and are unclear as to what direction they want to go in college should consider a Gap Year.
  • A Gap Year gives the student time to figure out what’s up – to regroup, and seek some clarity regarding what they might want to do.
  • Gap Years make students more attractive candidates to colleges.
  • If a parent knows their kid is not a motivated student then it’s better to spend money on a life enhancing Gap program than on a semester of college. 

Timing for College Applications

  • In the past, she always recommended that students applied to college during senior year of high school – even if they thought they might take a Gap Year.
  • Now, she doesn’t want students to go through the college process if they don’t have the motivation to do the applications. If they are not researching college options or doing their best academically in high school classes, then they should wait and apply the following year. 
  • Students need to take ownership of what they want to do, regardless of deadlines for college applications. The direction they go should be their idea, instead of parents constantly pushing them.
  • It’s fine to ask teachers and guidance counselors for recommendations during second half of senior year. Teachers and high schools in general are much more accepting and encouraging of Gap Years now.
  • Take the fall of the Gap Year to write essays, visit colleges and submit applications

How to Structure Gap Time

  • A Gap Year can seem overwhelming and take place over a long time – so think about it in semesters instead
  • Students must have a plan for their Gap time 
  • If students are going to travel, they can do it in their first or second half of a Gap Year. Either way, students should tell universities in their college essays what their plans will be.

As a parent of four boys who have all applied to college, I must say I agree with these points! Students should own the process including selecting their preferred schools and meeting their own deadlines. If they aren’t ready for the independent living and academic rigors of college, they should consider taking a Gap Year to increase their maturity, find some direction, and improve their decision making. 

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