Preparing for College

Taking Time Off After High School

Question: I am an American citizen but live with my family overseas. I am about to start my senior year in high school and am considering taking a year off afterwards to live alone in my family's Florida home while I work part-time and attend some classes at a local college before I begin my college experience in earnest. Any advice?

Some students who take time off between high school and college think it's the best thing they ever did--it gives them time out to catch their breath and examine their priorities. Many say they then begin their college careers with more direction than had they stayed on the conveyor belt that took them right there straight from high school.

Conversely, (and, yes, you probably suspected that there are no easy answers), other students who were initially gung-ho about their year away found that, instead, they were lost and lonely, envying their friends' campus capers and tales of interesting new people to meet and classes to attend.

While only you can guess at which of these groups you might land in, one consideration is that you will be far from your family and--since you've been overseas for high school--you may not have a support group of pals nearby to keep you company. We don't know enough about your situation (e.g., how connected you are to the Florida community where your parents' home is located, how adept you are at meeting new people at work or in your colleges classes and generally fending for yourself) to give you truly responsible advice.

If you opt for the year off, one thing you should think seriously about doing is applying to college as a senior and deferring admission once accepted rather than trying to start the application process in Florida, after you are thousands of miles from your high school and your former teachers. The vast majority of colleges and universities will hold a place for you for a year--once they've admitted you--as long as you pay a deposit, which is usually several hundred dollars.

It's possible, of course, that your interests and goals will shift during your year off, and you may not want to attend the college that you thought you did, and--in changing your mind--you'll end up having to fill out applications from afar anyway. (Of course, you'll lose your deposit, too.) However, do keep in mind, unless you are very focused and disciplined, if you wait until your year on your own to start applying to colleges, you may find yourself taking the path of least resistance--that is, continuing at your local Florida school, rather than going through a thorough college search and application process in order to find the best matches for you.

Finally, if your parents are on board with your idea of time off but are fearful of having every teenager in the Sunshine State beating a path to their unsupervised door, you might want to check out these Web sites below that offer some direction for students considering postponing their college plans.

· The Center for Interim Programs

· Taking Time Off

· Time Out Associates

Good luck to you, whatever you decide, and make sure that your applications highlight the unique experiences you've had while living abroad.