The Gap Year Reply

Yesterday in an article on CNN.com, teacher and educational consultant David Marcus responded to the recent technical difficulties on the Common App website by using those glitches to encourage more students to take a gap year between the end of high school and start of college. He says:

I urge 12th-graders to consider a gap year, combining working, going to community college and doing public service. Grow up, I say, and take a year to find your passions and to give back to the taxpayers who have done a lot for you. Parents in high-pressure communities usually dismiss that idea.

I’m secretly hoping for more delays with the Common App.

If kids can’t apply to college now, they can’t go next year. And that means they’ll be forced to take a gap year, which likely will be the best preparation for college of which anyone can dream.

I agree with Mr. Marcus about many things, including the unfortunate amount of stress and pressure inherent to college applications nowadays. Rather than use the process as an opportunity to research the remarkable number of diverse, outstanding schools out there today, give serious thought to the future, and ultimately find the best fit based on each applicant’s unique circumstances, too many people approach applying to college as an all-or-nothing, win-or-lose, no-holds-barred competition, in which the only goal is to get into the best possible school no matter what. It’s a frenzy fueled by well-meaning yet overreaching parents, massive amounts of media coverage, and an obsession with college rankings, such as those made famous by U.S. News, among other factors.

That being said, however, while a gap year can be helpful for some applicants, it shouldn’t be considered a necessity or even an automatically good thing. While we tend to focus on the stories of applicants who struggle with the college application process for some reason or another, there are still plenty of students who, by the time they are juniors and seniors in high school, have a good idea of the next steps they want to take on their educational journeys. For students like that, a gap year is often unnecessary, as they are ready and motivated to jump straight from high school into college. These individuals tend to approach the application process in a healthier way, with more confidence and direction, than others. They’re also ready for the change from a high-school educational setting to one at the college/university level – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Like I say, a gap year can be a great thing for some students; it can provide a chance to see more of the world, try new things, and generally clear your head as you prepare to make important decisions about your academic and professional future. But it’s not a necessity and isn’t going to automatically make the college application process easier. If you feel that a gap year may be right for you, by all means explore that option. If, on the other hand, you feel ready to tackle the college application process as a senior and move straight from high school into college, there’s no reason not to do so.

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