A Year of Purpose

Your son checked all the boxes. He joined the right clubs, had the great grades, and wrote the perfect essay. He was admitted to one of his top choices! Kudos to him. But he says that he does not want to start his first year of college online and asked if he could defer the start of college if remote learning is the only option.

Your daughter has been having a terrific college experience. She was disappointed that she missed half of her spring semester when her school was shut down in March, but is really looking forward to getting back on campus for the fall. If that can’t happen, she and her friends have made an unofficial pact to take time off and wait until they can all go back to campus together.

What options do your students actually have if they can’t study on campus?

Well, the answers are still unclear and vary from college to college.

For newly admitted students, some colleges have offered a “no questions asked” policy of allowing students to defer until the Spring semester. By then, many colleges think that there will be a better chance for in-person campus classes.

But, remember, a request for a deferral is just a request and not all colleges are following a “no questions asked” policy.  Many colleges will ask students who are requesting a deferral for a detailed plan on how they would spend the year.  And, some colleges have told those who wish to defer their first year that they cannot be guaranteed admission for Fall 2021.

While the options for deferring for a year or taking a leave of absence (for currently enrolled students) vary among colleges, the common thread is this: Will your time away be meaningful? Think beyond these four years and consider how a “gap year,” or leave will look to future employers.  So how can time be spent purposefully, so it is seen as valuable and intentional?

Newly Admitted Students

American University Gap Program, modeled on American’s Washington Semester Program for college juniors, is housed on their Washington, D.C. campus (or virtually if need be.) This three-day per week internship and college seminar can give a student up to seven pre-matriculation college credits. American University is committed to running the program this fall, whether on-campus or virtually.

Global Citizen Year has replaced its usual international immersion experience with a “domestic leadership program.”

Parachute Bridge is an experiential educational program that helps high school students grow as individuals and develop skills that will help them in college and their career. Based out of Nashville, TN, students will have an opportunity to intern, hike the Blue Ridge Mountains, and learn life skills like cooking and investing.

Verto Education, an international gap-year program that lets students earn college credit and satisfy general education requirements, has partnered with many schools.  Verto intends to run its international programs this fall, traveling to countries that are safe.

If your newly admitted students wants to try something outside of a curated college program, Abby Falik, the founder of Global Citizen Year, recommends they do these four things:

1) follow their heartbreak – find a cause or issue that breaks their heart, that they cannot ignore;

2) define their questions – figure out what they want to learn about the cause and about themselves;

3) find their teachers – people who can help learn about the cause or issue; and

4) build out a crew of like-minded students who want to tackle this issue.

Currently Enrolled College Students

Currently enrolled college students considering a leave of absence should secure an internship or job (even if it is virtual) or engage in meaningful research. What skills can be developed now that will be valuable when they return to school or begin their career? Campus Career Centers may offer valuable resources. Some other places to look are:

Parker Dewey is a company that offers micro-internships for college students and recent graduates.

Meaningful volunteer work is another option for all students who do not want to study remotely. Some governors and higher education thought leaders have floated the idea of a “Tutor Corps” of college students that could help educate K-12 students who lost valuable classroom time this spring, and who also may be unable to return to school in the fall.  Others have suggested forming a “Coronavirus Corps” to help with contact tracing and tracking.

Regardless of whether your student choses a curated gap year, a design-your-own-adventure, interns, or volunteers, this year needs to be a year of purpose.

To find out what your own college is planning for both new and returning students, be sure to check with Admissions or appropriate academic Deans so that you can make an informed and thoughtful decision!