You’re a senior in high school, and it’s college application time. All your friends are caught up in the frenzy of writing college essays, talking about first choices, early decision, etc. and you are simply uncertain. School has been a long haul for you, and you’re worn out. You’re unsure whether college has a purpose for you since, right now, you have no career goals. You feel implicit pressure from your parents to continue school. What do you do?
You have a range of choices:
Live at home and work for a period, all the while saving money and maturing. I know — your parents are saying, “If you don’t go to college now, you’ll never go.” Not necessarily true. The average age at community colleges is twenty-seven years old. Working is beneficial in that it gives you a sense of what’s out there with just a high school diploma. After doing this for several years and experiencing the “ceiling”, you may suddenly see a reason for attending college. Whatever you do, don’t let parental pressure force your decision. From everything I’ve seen as a college instructor, parents can pressure you to enroll, but they can’t compel you to be engaged. In the end, coerced students fail, and parents’ tuition dollars go down the tubes. Sit down with your parents and calmly discuss the benefits of working and postponing college for now. (In the meantime, you can consider applying now and deferring admission if you get accepted. Sometimes it is easier to “get into” the application process while everyone else is doing it. In fact, it may allay your parents’ anxiety about your taking time off.)
Do internships. Connect with employers whose fields interest you and ask whether they take interns out of high school. Sometimes employers only want college interns,so you may have to use your powers of persuasion and offer your services for free to get your foot in the door. While this is an expensive option in terms of lost income, it is very often a very valuable investment in one’s future. Having various internships gives you insight into what interests you, but just as importantly, into what does not. Internships allow you to learn in a “hands-on” manner which is especially useful to those who learn better by “doing” than by sitting in a classroom. If your quest for an internship fails, an alternative is to ask if you may “shadow” someone in a field that interests you. Seeing what a day is like in the life of a public relations director, for example, provides you the basis to judge whether you would find this a fulfilling career. Finally, if you find a good match and impress an employer, the relationship can result in a job offer down the road. After all, if an employer is looking to hire, isn’t a reliable “known” quantity better than a stranger? In a competitive market, internships are one of the best ways to secure future employment.
You can travel. Even on the cheap, this is a luxury option. However, if you have money saved (or parents are willing to finance it), and you’re independent enough to look after your own needs, this is an incredible opportunity to experience new people, places, and cultures that will broaden your horizons beyond your own world. Traveling requires taking responsibility for all your own needs and can result in increased maturity.
Take the time to shore up your academic skills. If you haven’t done as well in high school as you might have liked, your academic and study skills are probably sub-par. In this case, enroll part-time in either a continuing education (non-credit) program or in developmental classes at your local community college. Work on getting your reading, writing, math, and study skills up to snuff, so you can begin college on a confident footing, possibly averting developmental courses.
You can connect with a gap year program, either through an educational institution or a private agency. Gap-year programs can include a supervised residential program, along with beneficial work experience. A well-run program will offer counseling, advising, and perhaps even college credits; it is a good stepping stone before venturing out on your own for the first time. This is an excellent choice for students who want to attend a residential college but lack sufficient confidence regarding their independent living skills. This type of program is reassuring to parents who want their teen’s first experience away from home to include a degree of supervision.
There are several advantages to taking a gap year:
You may grow up. Taking time off to work or travel gives you real-life experience that can translate into increased maturity. This will stand you in good stead when faced with the social and academic pressures of college. A gap year can also narrow your focus on what you eventually want to do. Students who enter college with a goal in mind find it easier to endure courses they have little or no interest in because they consider them a means to an end.
You will have time to find yourself. Students who take a break and explore various career fields often discover what they want to do the rest of their life. Equally important, they often realize what they don’t want to do; the advantage of this is they haven’t wasted tuition dollars on a major, only to discover in the end that they don’t care for it after all.
You will have a chance to mentally and academically gear up for college. If you were not a “student” in high school, taking time off gives you the opportunity to “re-program” yourself. Think about why you lacked motivation and what will change when you return to school. Enrolling in a study skills course and taking it seriously will assure that you know how to prepare for exams. Students who take time off and are a bit older may be more “financially” reflective. They may realize that putting in minimal effort results in failing and re-taking courses and mediocre grades at best. While they may graduate, will their transcript earn them a job that pays sufficiently well to compensate for the tuition dollars expended? Will they have amassed an academic record that buys them enough income to live independently and repay the student loans they may have acquired? If taking time off results in better preparedness and increased fiscal responsibility, it is well worth it.
You will appreciate college. Once you enroll in college because it’s your desire, not your parents’, you will be more motivated. Add a few years of maturity, and you have an equation for success.
Google “gap year opportunities” for an extensive list of choices.
All students blossom on their own schedule. If, for whatever reasons, you are not ready to head to college immediately upon high school graduation, that does not mean college is not in the cards for you. It may very well mean you need a quality break for some introspective thinking, something a gap year can provide.