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How to Leverage the GAP Year to Get Into Your Top Choice College!
Read Time: 7 minutes   A few days ago, a concerned mom called us asking about options for her son since he had a poor GPA, low SAT, no volunteer experience, and NO idea what he wanted to study in College. Basically, the student was lost and needed an option that wasn’t community college. We suggested a Gap year!    The Gap year has always been a confusing concept for U.S. students. But for those of you who are:  
    • Not mentally ready yet to go to a four year university
    • Want time to think about what you want to study in college and pursue after graduation
    • Eager to undertake a unique experience, start a business, take time to resolve family issues before starting higher education etc.
    • Need time to rework your GPA and SAT (and Community College is not appealing)
    • Can’t afford college and need to make some money before going…
  …then this article is for you!   
  The Gap Year Association defines the Gap Year as:   A semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”   The concept of a Gap year or Sabbatical year as its also called really grew out England and Australia where students were encouraged to take a year off after their A-level exams to figure out what they want to study in college. In the U.S. one survey said approximately 30,000-40,000 students took a Gap semester or year. This is far lower than the millions that apply each year to colleges in the U.S., but it is still a growing figure.   
  If the Gap year is well structured it can be quite beneficial for the students. In fact, one survey said that 90% of students who do a structured gap year will most likely graduate on time and end up with a higher GPA.    Further, according to the research of Karl Haigler in his seminal book a ‘The Gap Year Advantage’, the year out can help the student overcome two major issues; burnout of the competitive pressure of high school AND the opportunity to know more about themselves. Both of which are key to the early success of college students.    Ultimately, there are numerous advantages to doing the Gap year but WARNING: IT HAS TO BE STRUCTURED! If your Gap year is one filled with empty down time, without life experiences, and just time off, this can SERIOUSLY undermine your college admissions.    Further there are a number of disadvantages you should be aware of including, losing momentum, falling behind, not finding your calling, not getting financial aid for college. So be sure to consider everything before you make the decision.  
Options to Maximize Your Time
  Avis Hinkson, Dean of Barnard College in New York, summarizes it well, in terms of what students choose to do:   “Some will have internships, some will travel, some will fulfill religious responsibilities and some find paid work. All-in-all, they will grow and mature.”   That last part is KEY, “growth and maturity”. The idea is that after the year is done you need to demonstrate how you grew as a person, and how you are still able, based on your experiences, to add value to the college community now that you are a year older and wiser!   So here are some options to consider:  
    • Traveling with purpose not just for fun, but so you learn from the experience i.e. learn a new language, cultural exchange, exploring
    • Volunteering to show compassion, dedication to a cause or program, and leadership/teamwork
    • Working to develop skills, show teamwork and may save for your college tuition (sense of responsibility) and/or to help family
    • Studying to retake the SAT or taking college credits to show you can handle the college level rigor to offset a poor GPA or SAT score
    • Introspecting into who you are and what you stand for so that you can figure out your major of choice, and your future goals   
  Remember being introspective should be done with gaining life experiences. Also you can study but that will only last through September and then you have the rest of the year to show how you have developed as a person and that you learned important life lessons.   
No-Miss Considerations
  As a senior, you will finish high school in June. Yet, you will still need to apply to colleges between September – November. So you HAVE to show the school what you are doing and how you are growing as a person. Basically, you shouldn’t take the summer off and then say in your applications, “hey I’m taking a gap year and I will plan to do X, Y, and Z”. Why would they believe you?!? You need to show that you have a plan, and you have started executing it as early as the summer time and here is what you have learnt so far etc.   Another consideration is that you can always apply to colleges even if you are considering a gap year. The idea is that, if you don’t get in or get in but don’t want to go, then you can do the gap year and then re-apply or defer your acceptance. Bottomline, still make sure you have a plan of action for that gap year as soon as you finish submitting your applications.   
Next Steps
  If the Gap year is for you then you need to have a plan. Here is what you should focus on:   
    • Planning out the year from June to June, 
    • Applying for and lining up volunteer/work experiences etc, 
    • Having a plan of action regarding applications in the fall etc. 
  These are just some of the things you NEED to be thinking about well before June so that you hit the ground running and ensure that the year off will be worth your while and will be an advantage on your college applications.    Note, we have a program called COMPASS which helps our students map out their year ahead, especially for those who are taking the gap year. Email us for a personalized consultation to see how we can help you maximize this important and life-changing year ahead for you!   ~ Hamada | Founder, Write Track Admissions