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Indecisive About College? Some Consider a Gap Year

Still can't decide on college for the fall? The May 1 deadline for students to commit to a school next fall is right around the corner. If the choice still is not clear, maybe it's time to explore Plan B.

Deferring college for a year may be something to consider. Students typically have the ability to defer but should never assume that it's a foregone conclusion, says Don Fraser, director of education and training for the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Va. Ask the college if it's a possibility and if there are any restrictions from taking courses elsewhere. Be prepared to provide a reason for deferring, along with a written plan in some cases.

"Colleges probably wouldn't be terribly excited about a student who wants to defer but has no plan to do anything productive, kicking around playing X-box," says Fraser. "Colleges typically don't have a problem with students who wish to defer. In fact, there are some that encourage it because it really is a win-win situation. The student—if they are doing something productive—has an extra year to grow, and the college gets the student a year more mature."

Waiting a year to attend still involves making a decision. Typically, students submit their deposit to secure them a seat the following year. It isn't a guarantee that the school will agree to save a space in the next class, so confirm that with the college, experts suggest. Call the admissions office and speak with the person who read your file to see if deferring is a possibility.

"A gap year is not a bad option at all, and there are some very interesting options available," says Brenda Poznanski, director of guidance at Bishop Guerin High School in Nashua, N.H. However, deferring can be "dicey" given each college may have a different protocol, she notes.

Fraser cautions that if a student is really indecisive, taking a year off does not guarantee that he or she will be in a better place a year later. Students should do a considerable amount of soul searching about the root of their indecision and feelings or cold feet.

If you go forward with a gap year, it can still be costly, so do some research for the best fit and most affordable option or you. There are no shortage of opportunities, but families should beware because there may be some fraudulent business out there, says Fraser.

Megan Dorsey, founder of College Prep LLC in Sugar Land, Texas, says good gap-year activities are learning experiences in themselves—like a full credit year of "real world" coursework. Some students have the financial means to travel in the U.S. or abroad, others do mission work or volunteer programs.

"What I don't recommend is another year of hanging around. Two classes at the community college and a job at the mall isn't a gap-year plan I'd endorse," says Dorsey. "Staying at home and getting a job is something a student can and should do over a summer, but it doesn't add a new dimension of learning in most cases."

Some resources to consider:
City Year - offers students a community service, leadership experience, and provide them with a stipend that they can use toward their college degree.

TeenLife - links students with summer, volunteer, and gap-year experiences.

Dynamy - a nonprofit that provide experiential education programs, including a career-based exploration year.

Outward Bound - offers experiential learning and outdoor leadership programs.

The Center for Interim Programs - an independent gap-year counseling organization that is looking to develop standards related to gap-year programs.


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