When early college is not the answer…
by Molly Isaacs-McLeod
Part of my work involves helping parents find the most appropriate educational options for their children given parameters of goals, interests, location, budget, and family situation. On occasion I have the privilege of encountering a high school student (more rarely a middle school student) who has exhausted most of the course work offered at the high school level, but who does not opt for early college. So what constructive suggestions are there for a young person who finds himself in this position? First some questions to ponder:
- What are your long-term goals as to college and career?
- Do you have a college or program in mind?
- What are your short-term goals?
- What are your thoughts on how to spend the time between now and full-time college study?
Once these questions have been answered, there are many options to consider.
Perhaps a gap year would be of interest. In its most traditional form, the gap year usually takes students to another country where they are able to experience living and working in another culture. Much of the work is of a social service type. Gap-year opportunities are becoming more plentiful. You can learn about these opportunities from the web, your guidance counselor, or someone who has been through a gap-year program. Planning in advance is crucial to a rich gap-year experience.
Maybe attending a prestigious boarding school that offers a postgraduate program would be beneficial. This provides a way to be away from home but in a more nurturing environment than is found on most college campuses. The level of academic rigor is likely to be higher than that of many high schools. Boarding schools that offer post-graduate programs can be researched on the web. Applications for these programs should generally be sent when college applications are being completed.
When a young person has a strong sense of a future career, taking on an internship in that field can be not only enlightening, but valuable. The internship experience can affirm career goals or lead to the realization that the field is not what had been envisioned. Internships come in two basic flavors, those that exist on their own and those that are created! If you have a specific career in mind and cannot find an appropriate internship, use your contacts and find a company or firm willing to take you on!
When a young person has demonstrated a strong interest and ability in a specific area, working with a mentor in that field can provide an experience like no other. Finding a mentor can be challenging but is certainly possible with some preparation, research, and a willingness to ask. Being clear as to your area of interest and what, specifically, you hope to have the mentor help with is important. Most people acting as mentors want to provide guidance and support, rather than develop a project for the mentee to complete.
Taking courses in areas of passion and/or ability at the local university, or even online, can provide a high level of challenge while allowing the student to postpone full-time college matriculation.
Please keep in mind that these options can be combined in such a way that a truly productive period of time between the completion of high school coursework and the commencement of full-time college attendance can be tailor made to suit the needs of your student.
Don’t be afraid to step off the more traveled path. If you are concerned about college admission and have an idea of where you hope to attend, call and talk with the admissions office. If you are concerned your study skills will suffer while participating in work- or volunteer-related activities, build taking a class or two into the plan.
Colleges in the U.S. have been quick to embrace the idea of their prospective students gaining some “real life” experience prior to arriving on campus. All of the options mentioned above provide opportunity for maturity, growth, and trying out new things, be they careers, areas of study, or new cultures. My only words of caution are plan, do good for yourself and others, gain experience that you could obtain in no other way, and make the time spent off the traditional path “count.”