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Freshman Files: Taking some time away with a gap year

April 16th, 2019

The “Gap Year” has been popular in Europe for a long time and is now on the rise in the United States.  During a gap year, students explore their interests after graduating high school and before attending college to explore the world, sharpen their sense of purpose or develop a new focus for the future.  

While this has not been the traditional route for students in the past, many colleges in the U.S. are now on board by providing programs to support such a plan.  Colleges like Tufts University, Florida State University and University of North Carolina have added enriching international and domestic volunteer, fellowship and internship gap year programs.  To read more about these schools and several others that now offer gap year programs, go to www.goabroad.com .  

In today’s Freshman Files post, Eliana Shapere has written a beautiful description of her self-constructed gap year and what it has meant to her.  I am delighted that she is willing to share her experience and think it is a great read for all parents and students as we all continue to consider which direction to go in life.  

I have always been an autodidact. When I was four, I refused to participate in art class but spent all my time at home making sculptures out of tape and things from the recycling bin. School pretty much went the same; I taught myself French and got in trouble for drawing during class. What can I say? Like many creative kids, I was bored. I did the International Baccalaureate Program, which worked well with my learning style. There was a required research paper for each class, and ironically, this was the most freeing experience I had in high school. At the end of my junior year at Tates Creek, I decided to take a gap year to travel the world. It was the best decision I ever made.

I didn’t just decide to take a gap year and spend it travelling out of nowhere. My dad travelled through Europe and Asia in the middle of college, and afterwards switched majors from Math to Physics. His adventure stories filled me with a desire to see the world, and to go at it alone. I was also inspired by my great-grandfather who travelled for two years after college. He too came back from his voyages a changed man, and turned away from his conservative upbringing to devote himself to writing and progressive politics.

I knew that a relatively unstructured year would prepare me to give college my all. My teachers have been books, coworkers, bosses, museums, and strangers who became friends. To raise money for my travels, I interviewed faculty from the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, lifeguarded at Woodland Pool, and canvassed for Amy McGrath. I was pretty shy around strangers until I got a job talking to dozens of them each day about politics. I discovered that I enjoy creative writing more than journalism, and I have filled many notebooks these past months.

So far I have travelled alone to Cuba, Italy, Switzerland, France, and Spain. In Havana, I made friends with an artist who had a huge collection of Art Brut. By the way, I had never heard of Art Brut until meeting him, but now I love it. During school, I prioritized sports, music, and theater, but Cuba helped me remember how much I love drawing. In Florence, I learned enough Italian to survive, and then went to Sicily to eat cannoli and check out all the Greek ruins. I will never forget my first glimpse of the Temple of Concordia through fragrant almond trees. I am interested in Classics, so this was a dream come true.

There have been few drawbacks. A common fear (or so my mother tells me) is that people who take gap years are less likely to go on to college. All I can say is that somehow, my excitement about college decreased exponentially throughout high school. I never thought I would say this last May, but now I feel hopeful and excited about college. I have gained confidence about teaching myself, but I want to join a stable academic community, so I feel sure that college is the right path for me. Another fear is that taking a gap year turns kids lazy. Too much time makes idle minds, but I am grateful for the space to think. I am more creative than I was in high school, because I have free time. During high school, it was all too easy for me to ignore the “little” things like sleep and hanging out with friends. I don’t say this lightly: now, I have a clearer sense of what matters in life.

If you are in high school now, I wholeheartedly suggest that you take a gap year. You will grow in ways you cannot yet imagine. You will get a better idea of what you want to study. And yes, you will have time to think, relax, see your friends, and sleep. Consider if you prefer more or less structure, and let that dictate your year. Even if you’re sure you don’t want to take a gap year, brainstorm what you might do just as an exercise.

There are various scholarships for service, and you can find work nearly anywhere you want. Americans can work with no visa in Australia, and everywhere I’ve been, there have been volunteers working at the hostels in exchange for room and board. There’s WWOOFing (working on organic farms), workaway, and Helpx. I have been Couchsurfing to save money and live like a local. Couchsurfing is a network of people who open their homes to travellers, but it’s more than a free place to stay. It’s about exchanging stories, cooking for each other, and a shared hope for the future.

The possibilities are endless, and it’s never too early to consider a gap year. Now take some time to dream.

 

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National College Decision Day is almost here! Seniors, are you ready?

April 2nd, 2019

Seniors know that May 1st is designated as National College Decision Day: the deadline to submit an enrollment deposit to attend the university of one’s choice.  That’s right – after a long and thorough search process, seniors are down to roughly four weeks remaining to decide where they’ll spend the next four years of their lives. This is a very exciting time, yet it can also be stressful because there is a lot to consider.

In the article linked below from Forbes.com, the author, who is also a professor, lists four important things to consider when choosing a college.  Whether you are just beginning or a senior in the final phase of the college search, I hope today’s article will help you focus further on what is truly important to you in a school.

I look forward to hearing from seniors about choices very soon.

Article linked below from Forbes.com, published on February 19, 2016, by Chad Orzel

Four Important Things To Consider When Choosing A College

The college admissions process goes year-round these days, but the activity and the associated stress level peaks twice a year: once in the fall, when high-school students have to decide what schools they want to apply to, and again in late winter/early spring when those same students are forced to make a decision about what college to attend. The process and the pressure on students has intensified considerably since my high-school days back in the 1980’s (after the dinosaurs but before the giant armored sloths), and as a faculty member, I’ve talked to dozens of students (and parents) over the years who are going through the process, many of them teetering on the edge of panic.

Having gone through this a lot– this is my fifteenth year as a professor– I have a well-worn set of advice I give to anxious high-school seniors on campus visits. Having previously offered a bunch of academic advice in blog form– why small colleges are great for students planning to study science, what students should do to prepare for studying science in college, why non-science students need to take science, and why science students need to take non-science classes— I might as well offer some general advice on the choice of college.

Read more at Forbes >>

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Admission decisions: What to do when you are wait-listed

March 19th, 2019

The Ides of March, notorious for the demise of Julius Caesar, will now also be remembered for the unveiling of one of the most stupendous college admission scams of all time.  Many clients were in touch over the last week, sharing gratitude for collaboration that highlights ethical conduct and the life lesson that such work together provides students.  My heartfelt thanks go to each of you who took time to reach out.

The Ides of March also herald the final round of admission decisions.  Colleges are releasing Regular Decision results and by April 1 all decisions should be on the table.  While I hope there will be much cause for jubilation, this year has been inordinately competitive, and many students across the nation are receiving at least some disappointing news.  Please continue to keep me posted on what you’re hearing and thinking.

Today’s article link will help you know how to handle the most mystifying of colleges’ decisions:  the wait-list offer.  If you’ve been wait-listed by colleges that interest you, please take time to digest the article, take a deep breath and, whatever the ultimate admission outcomes, congratulate yourself for having put your best effort into the process. 

The strengths that each of you will bring to college are impressive, and an admission disappointment will not render them any less so.  Onward and upward!  My best wishes are with each student as admission decisions roll in.

Article referenced below on April 13, 2017 from US News, written by Jordan Friedman

BEING WAIT-LISTED FROM college can be disappointing for high schoolers applying to their dream schools.

Camila Alvarez was devastated when she was wait-listed by her first choice, George Washington University, last spring. She knew that for wait-listed applicants at many schools, the odds of getting in are slim.

But even after accepting her spot on the waitlist and submitting a deposit elsewhere, Alvarez didn’t give up. She updated the admissions office about her improved GPA and new leadership roles in clubs, and also had a phone interview. To her surprise, she got in by early June, says the current freshman.

The 91 ranked colleges that reported these data to U.S. News in an annual survey admitted anywhere from zero to 100 percent of wait-listed applicants. But the average was about 1 in 5, the data show.

Read more at US News >>

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Statement from IECA regarding the college admissions scandal

March 13th, 2019

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and its members are committed to helping families find the most appropriate college for their students, and assist families in navigating the application process. Following a comprehensive code of ethics, IECA members are professionals who understand and adhere to high ethical standards in all their interactions with clients and institutions and are compensated by and work exclusively on behalf of their client families.

In response to the breaking news of an FBI probe and Justice Department charges for 50 people— college officials from elite institutions, wealthy parents, coaches, and others—in a long-running admissions bribery scheme, IECA CEO Mark Sklarow said, “The charges presented today exemplify the intense anxiety that even some wealthy parents feel about their children being admitted to their preferred colleges.”

Parents and students should keep the following advice in mind as they begin their college search.

• The college search and application process should be a fun and exciting time for students and their families. If anyone in any setting is exerting pressure or causing undue anxiety and pressure, be cautious. If you are told someone has “inside” information, can pull strings, provide shortcuts to admission, or give you a special advantage (for a fee or otherwise), you are being misled.

• There are many great postsecondary options for every student, and no student should be made to feel that they must become something they are not to get accepted. The “best” school is the school that fits a student academically, socially, and financially. Being and presenting one’s authentic self and demonstrating one’s own talents and abilities is a way of ensuring the right college fit. This is central to what an ethical independent educational consultant does.

• The vast majority of admissions officers, school counselors, and IECs are ethical and compassionate professionals who dedicate their careers to advising students and families.

If you decide to seek help with the college search and application process outside of the school setting, ensure that you hire someone who is a member of a professional organization, such as IECA or NACAC, that requires them to abide by the highest ethical standards. A fully vetted independent educational consultant (IEC) will be solely concerned about an individual student’s well-being and helping to gain admission to a school where they will thrive and succeed on their own merits.