Consider Taking a Gap Year, and Bring Your Zeitgeist to College

January 29, 2013

By Kate Duey

Kate Duey is a private college counselor serving gifted students. She has worked with students on traditional schooling paths, home schooled students, community college students, and students seeking accelerated or early college entrance. Kate is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. She has a Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA.

Gifted Students Enjoying Balance!What happens if a student graduates from high school exhausted? AP classes, standardized testing, extracurricular activities, sports, music, community service, research projects…and all of those college essays! What if they worked so hard they can’t remember what they like? Are they ready for four or five or six more years?

Among gifted high school students, it is especially important to remember that giftedness is innate to a person, and we should embrace the whole student by supporting their intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional and physical growth. When a gifted student’s high school years disproportionately emphasize intellectual development, the whole person is neglected. Refreshing all parts of a gifted student’s self helps to focus his or her intensities in ways that work with and for the student.

For graduating high school students who find themselves exhausted, an intentional pause to decompress and plan their next steps – a “gap year” between high school and college –could be a viable option. They often enter college with better perspective, more maturity, chronological alignment with his or her class, and enthusiasm for an old or new interest elevates the student’s whole experience.

Taking a gap year does not mean the student does not apply to college as a high school senior; they absolutely should. As a high school student, he or she has access to the teachers and counselors who will write letters of recommendation, grades and test scores are in hand, and good reference materials to search for college are easier to access. Definitely apply! Then, defer.

As a college counselor working with gifted high school students, I’ve twice seriously advised a gap year. One student considered extreme mountaineering, the other living in Europe with extended family. (Admittedly, neither did it.) I’ve talked about it with every student who has an interest in studying foreign languages. Among our tabloid friends, Prince William and Kate Middleton took gap years. Kate spent much of hers studying Italian. Every year, fifty to seventy students defer entrance into Harvard College for a gap year. In 2006, Harvard reported some of the focuses of those gap years:

  • Backpacking
  • Caring for grandparents
  • Writing the Next Great American Novel
  • e-commerce startup
  • Figure skating
  • Kibbutz life
  • Language study
  • Military service
  • Mineralogy
  •  Music
  • Political campaigns
  • Reading
  • Special needs education
  • Sports
  • Steel drumming
  • Storytelling
  • Swing dancing
  • Working to save money for college

Parents often worry that, by detaching from a year-to-year academic progression, their child will fall behind. Colleges seldom see it that way, and many letters of admission come with the option of deferring for a year. Once in college, students are often encouraged to take a year off, and college student counseling centers freely offer advice about opportunities. Splitting the difference, some colleges offer mid-year entrance, allowing the student a “gap semester.” American University and Brandeis University have formal off-campus programs for first-year fall semester.

A year off can center around any endeavor. Now that average student indebtedness at graduation is $25,200, saving for a year before college can create more flexibility after college. Another opportunity is more family time, especially with grandparents, which may have been sacrificed for academic achievement.

Some parents and students prefer a structured year. There are many services which will match a student with a gap year program, and a quick internet search will yield many. Also, think outside of the box; my personal favorite was a year at Austin Community College studying blacksmithing.

A gap year can make for a more interesting student, capable of adding more to the academic community. Best of all, students can discover their passions and capture their zeitgeist before they begin college.

Has your child considered taking a gap year? Please share your experience in the comment section below.

Kate will be discussing college admissions at our next Gifted Child Parent Meeting. The talk will take place at 6:30 pm on February 13, 2013, at the IEA Learning Center, located at 625 Fair Oaks Avenue, Suite 288, South Pasadena, CA 91030 (across the hall from the IEA main office). Please RSVP to reception@educationaladvancement.org. We hope to see you there!

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