Gap Year students are a unique group whom inevitably have a mountain of transformational experiences under their belts as a result of their Gap Year. Some may have taken part in a highly structured program that was perhaps focused on a particular career trajectory . . . others may have crafted their own Gap Year that although structured, was loosely so. While it's important for the students to understand where they stand with the universities they hope to attend, it's likewise important for their admissions counselors, to seek an understanding for what they need. Communication is most certainly a necessity here, and so it's AGA's position that to create the best possible circumstances for a Gap Year student and their future university, a three-part beginning, middle, and end approach works best.
Beginning - Before their Gap Year
As we advise Gap Year students, most Admissions Counselors will concur: the best order of operations for the student is to apply to their universities, get accepted to, pay the deposit to, and then defer from their preferred university to take a Gap Year. While some schools have very favorable policies on deferral from a Gap Year, others have either more nebulous ones, or no official deferral policy at all. Knowing your policy, and adding it to our page is a great first step towards recruiting Gap Year graduates. www.americangap.org/fav-colleges.php.
Universities have granted a deferral contingent on some or all of the following:
- Upon returning they must enter as a freshman
- While on deferral a student may not earn more than a certain number of credits . . . or may not enroll in another university entirely
- Mandating communication monthly while away
- Mandating a written plan for their deferral year
Each of these carry their own pros and cons, and this list is by no means exhaustive. However, what it represents to the student and their family is that you, as the university representative, see and acknowledge that these proposed Gap Year experiences will enrich the student and college community and you're interested in having that at your campus. While the vast majority of universities do not yet have a formal policy in place for how to work with Gap Year students, nor an internal system to account for these students, the American Gap Association is happy to offer suggestions for better tracking and in order to hold deferral applicants accountable.
Understanding where a Gap Year student is coming from is obviously very helpful. Students are often initially concerned with what their parents think. Gap Year students, just like other students, get concerned about missing out on sharing their college experience with their peers, or even more so, on their return fearing their peers won't be able to relate to them. Quite often, Gap Year students will also be concerned about pushing their comfort zones from a collegiate perspective; having had the previous 18 years to prepare for college and now the prospect of doing something other than college is its own hurdle. In fact, it's hard to ignore the possible correlation that perhaps why the data is so favorable to Gap Year students is because they are self-selecting to find their own path and explore their own interests with a high motivation.
Middle - During their Gap Year
The middle is perhaps the most simple to manage. Typically, the best suggestion is to continue the dialogue - either request to be added to their facebook so that you can "live vicariously" through their experiences, or ask simply to be added to a weekly blog. Doing this accomplishes several things: it shows your commitment to the student, it allows you to monitor them and in essence buys you an extended period to evaluate whether you think - based on these further communications - you still think they're a good fit for your university, and, it allows you to get a feel for any changing tides in case a student may have shifted their focus to another major or another direction other than your university. In this way, it's better to know about these situations earlier rather than later.
End - Integrating into University After their Gap Year
The end is really the beginning in this context as it represents the closure of their Gap Year and the beginning of their college career. Here the challenge is mostly on integrating and getting the most out of the student. Gap Year students routinely outperform their peers in academics and extracurricular engagement [Bob Clagett, Former Dean of Admissions for Harvard and Middlebury Universities, New York Times, "The Choice," December 27, 2011]. As such the question is what direction can you offer to ease their integration, and spread their positive impacts out to the communities most in need on campus. Sometimes this is a languishing club that you can help direct them towards, or other times student government, but in all cases it's an opportunity to let students in need benefit from a student with a breadth of experiences and self-awareness.