Preparing for College

Gap Year for High School Junior?

Question: My son is going to be a junior in this fall and he is a high honor student at a prep school. He wants to take a year off, but I am worried. Will this hurt him when he applies to college?

Depending on what your son does with his "gap year," it might actually work in his favor at college-admission time. There are many valuable study-abroad and volunteer opportunities that could set your son's college applications apart from others with similar grades and test scores but which boast only the typical high school extracurricular activities. Joining the work force--even in a menial job that will help your son earn cash for college--would be considered worthwhile, too.

However, you do want to make certain that your son has a plan and won't be floundering. You also don't want your son's year off from school to be interpreted by college admission officials as being the result of emotional difficulties or "melt down."

Of course, if you feel that this might be the case, then be sure that your son receives counseling and/or medical attention. There is an enormous amount of pressure on high school students, especially those in high-achieving prep-school communities. Your son might be signaling an overload, so pay attention.

If, however, he simply wants a change or to expand his horizons, we feel that a year off from school could be valuable. For assistance with finding appropriate year-off plans, try these Web sites:

While gap years that follow high-school graduation are more common than those that come earlier, your son may be wise to recognize that it's now that he needs a break. He will probably return to school refreshed and with more focus, and this could help a lot when it comes to making his college plans down the road.