"The Road Less Traveled: Taking Time Off After High School"

September 01, 2002

The Road Less Traveled: Taking Time Off After High School
"What are you doing after high school?" For many teenagers, this question elicits only one possible reply: Going to college. But there are other alternatives. The most common reason why some teenagers consider taking a year off after high school, say high-school counselors, is education fatigue -- the student is simply tired of school. "Those who have struggled with various aspects of high school, whether academic, personal or social, and who are reluctant to explore academic options after high school, are unlikely to have a positive attitude about continuing immediately after graduation," says Joan Jacobson, a counselor at Shawnee Mission South Public High School in Kansas.

She adds "While it is not likely that I would plant the idea of not continuing one's education right after high school, there are students whose case I will support. I would much rather they take a break, either work or travel, and start once they have had an opportunity to see their education in a new light -- not more of the same, but a fresh new opportunity for growth."

Will my child still be interested in going to college?
There are instances, Jacobson maintains, when the teenager wants a year off, but the parents fear that their son or daughter may never go on to college. In such cases, the parents and their son or daughter may want to draw up a plan. "If students can present a sequence of actions that they will pursue in the interim, I find parents are much less likely to balk at the suggestion."

Parents shouldn't fear the prospect of their child losing interest in higher education during the year off, says Bob Gilpin, president of Time Out Associates, a business that matches young people with opportunities during their time off. Based on his experience, the opposite generally occurs: After a year off, students nearly always return to school with a higher level of enthusiasm and a greater sense of purpose. "If this idea shows up on the horizon, the parent should look closely at what the (teenager) has to say," says Gilpin. The alternative -- possibly resulting in the student dropping out of college -- can be a financial and emotional step backward, he adds.

High-school and college counselors interviewed by National PTA agree that if a student is taking a year off, he or she should go through the application process in the senior year, be accepted to college, and then, if possible, defer enrollment. Fortunately, all public colleges and universities and a growing number of private schools are now allowing students to defer for a year. Many schools, however, require that the student put down a deposit.

Choosing how to spend the year
High-school counselor John Boshoven encourages his students to think about it as a year "on," not "off." "It's important that the student use the year as a special gift and a time to work on or accomplish something (he or she) is passionate about," says Boshoven, who works at Community High, an alternative, public high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Factoring in the finances
What a high-school graduate does during his or her time off before entering college will largely depend on finances. Students who need to make money might pursue an internship or a type of employment that will enable them to learn more about a particular career. If making money is not a high priority, teenagers might consider volunteer opportunities with private organizations, churches, or governmental agencies. Some high-school graduates combine these approaches by working for awhile, then traveling or volunteering for the rest of the year.

Another option, which requires taking at least two years off, is enlisting in the military. This can allow a young person to explore career interests, as well as eliminate a good chunk of future college costs through various tuition-assistance programs. For example, a two-year enlistment for active duty can earn a GI nearly $20,000 for her college fund.

Keeping college in mind
No matter what students decide, Marybeth Kravets, president of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling and a college counselor at Deerfield Public High School in Illinois, says that college admissions officers will be taking a close look at what teenagers did with the time off. "The question," says Kravets, "is, 'What are they doing with their time to make it constructive?'"

In partnership with National PTA. Adapted from "Choosing a High-Quality After-School Program" in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

by National PTA, The Learning Network

updated: 9 years ago