Having Second Thoughts?

Every summer, as September approaches we get a few inquiries from students who are having second thoughts about heading off to college. They are wondering if it isn’t too late to consider a Gap Year instead. This year, we have had an unusually high number of inquiries. Our website traffic for the week ending August 27 is up an astonishing 88% compared to the week earlier. We feel something slightly different happening this year. What is going on?

We have noticed several trends that may be responsible for an increasing number of college-bound students having second thoughts about starting the new school year.

  1. Sky-high cost of college: While there have always been students who put less effort into the college process, and sometimes enroll at a school they are not excited about or not familiar with, we are seeing a new dynamic due to the extremely high cost of attending college. With the cost of higher ed having dramatically outpaced consumer inflation over the past several decades, the total cost of attendance at the most selective private schools is now approaching $90,000 a year. Public university prices have also increased significantly, especially for out of state students. With a narrow window to withdraw before tuition becomes non-refundable, we are seeing an increasing number of these students having buyers remorse at the last minute. 
  2. Mental health challenges:  We have previously commented on the growing prevalence of mental health issues among today’s teens. We have not written much about how so many more students are wanting to take full ownership of their mental well-being. They want to own their college experience and do a good job taking care of themselves on campus. They understand the importance of therapy and want to make sure they can take charge of managing their ongoing appointments. Sometimes, these students find that the two months of summer just didn’t give them enough time to work on themselves and address ongoing issues. It takes courage to call a “time out” at the last minute to make sure they are ready and mentally strong when they leave for college.
  3. Athletic recruiting: High school athletes are excited about being recruited by colleges. Many have committed to a school by junior year. During senior year, their college application process is simple and involves one school. What this means, though, is that they are going to their school for a sport, and not necessarily for the school itself. Often, campus life and culture, the school’s setting (urban, suburban, rural), part of the country, academic focus and other factors are secondary and given little thought. We are starting to see more students who get to their school, and realize it’s actually not the right fit school for them. Sometimes the full realization doesn’t sink in until sophomore year is about to start, and the student steps back and decides it’s better to pause and reassess. So we are seeing more kids taking Gap Years to transfer out of the athletic process.

Finally – and this is a related theme but not totally about this time of year – we are seeing more students reaching out themselves to us (rather than parents on their behalf). So far, this has been mostly students already in college exploring the transfer process combined with a Gap Year. They’re trying to figure it out, and know they need help. Sometimes their parents aren’t on yet with the idea of transferring. What we are definitely noticing is that Gap Years are more “normalized” – students are simply not afraid of the idea of taking time off to give themselves time to make sure they are at a college that feels right!

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