A former Admissions Counselor’s opinion.
I am writing this Will You Be Happy For Me? installment from a different perspective. I am answering the question for parents, mentors, and students. I decided to do so because I am extremely passionate about this topic.
Was Malia Obama’s gap year a political statement? Well, I sure wish it was. The public made such a stink about it. As a former college admissions counselor, I cheered her on through and through.
To the dismay of every person in the business of education, she decided what was right for her, and it wasn’t going straight to college after graduation.
I Was An Admissions Counselor and I WANT You to Take A Gap Year
There were many times I wish I could have told the uncertain student, sitting across from me, to take some time to think about college. The pressure they felt to “lock-in” their future before graduation was just ridiculous to me.
It was an outrageous thought when I approached my own high school graduation date, and even worse when I was on the other side of the admissions table.
If I had known what I know now, I definitely would have unapologetically taken a gap year.
Here I am today: I spent thousands of dollars on a degree I barely use, I’m in a career completely unrelated, and have a pittance of a paycheck…yeah, I could have done with a year or two to think things through.
I see you, all you mothers, fathers, mentors, and college advisors. I see you shaking your head, and I’m going to stop you right there….I don’t want to hear that same ol’ line:
If you don’t go to college now, you won’t ever go.
You want to know who probably said it first? I would bet it was a college admissions counselor trying to meet their goals, keep their job, and get a prospective student to sign on the dotted line.
Parents and mentors:
Think of it like this:
Most students graduating from high school are 17 or 18 years old.
Average four-year college tuition?
For a public school, it’s $32,410 and for a Public In-State School, it’s $9,410 (out of state…it typically doubles).
That’s PER YEAR.
The total 4-year private school tuition is $126,640. That is IF the student graduates in four-years. If a student is unsure, and struggling to decide on a major or career path, chances are they may need an extra semester anyway (due to frequently changing majors).
Advisors will guide students to select a major no later than the end of their 2nd year, after they have completed most of their core classes (classes all students must take in order to earn a degre from the specific school they are attending).
In my experience, students who are not ready at this point jump from major to major and end up spending an extra semester, or even year(s), trying to settle in. The danger in situation is that a student now feels stuck with the college they are currently attending due to credit transfer issues.
What if a student has finally decided they want to go into archaeology, but the school they attend does not have archaeology? Will the school that does have archaeology take their hard-earned (expensive) credits or will they have to start over? Is the student willing to leave their new friends behind? These are things colleges bank on, and that is one of the reasons they want to grab students right out of college.
Never forget that colleges are business.
So what makes more sense?
A gap year, additional tuition costs due to major-jumping, lost credits, or worse yet, a degree that has nothing to do with where the student truly wants to end up?
Now, if that doesn’t convince you that a gap year is completely fine, let’s talk a bit more about money.
Try to imagine an 18-year-old that you know and love. Maybe it’s your daughter, your friend’s daughter, your younger brother, or your nephew. Maybe it was even you 20 years ago.
Whoever it is, picture them in your mind and consider this:
If you had $126,640 in your pocket and you had to give it to that person to decide what they want to do with the rest of their life, right now, how comfortable would you be doing that? Do you think they would spend it wisely?
That’s a lot of money to put in a teenager’s hand. Would you bet $126,640 that they know what they want to do with the rest of their lives right now?
I sure wouldn’t. And for the record, it’s not the student…it’s the education system.
High Schools haven’t prepared students well enough to take on the enormity of the decision in front of them. The ratio of guidance counselors to students is just not sufficient.
Now, granted, some people are insanely lucky, or they just know themselves well enough and have always known what they want to do “when they grow up.”
But…I’m not talking about these people.
I’m talking about the ones that are on-the-fence, the ones that have something to do yet; some unfinished business. They are still exploring, they want to learn more about careers, or their guidance office was just too busy to help them and they want to visit more schools, intern more, and spend some time learning about careers.
For the record: Going to college as an undecided or undeclared student isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if that is something that is inevitable, please please PLEASE research the prospective college’s career advising resources.
My college career advisor told me it didn’t matter what degree I had. She told me to just pick one.
So, there’s that.
Yes, Take A Gap Year
Dear Upcoming Graduates,
I will be happy for you if you take a year off, heck take two off. Don’t listen to the people who warn against it, telling you that you will never go back to school. Of course you will, if that’s what’s right for you. It’s an old wives tale.
According to The Balance Careers, the average person changes their career 12–15 times in their life. Guess what? I’ve registered countless people who took the time to think. They came back to school with a mission, a schedule, and a freaking plan that they felt passionate about.
Read college bulletins, course descriptions, and ask tons of questions. Travel, explore, work, volunteer, job shadow, intern, live and discover yourself.
This is the first time in your life that you are free from the rules of the education system. No longer will you sit in pretty little rows, ask for bathroom passes, eat under watchful eyes, and struggle through subjects that you are not passionate about.
Education really is a wonderful thing. But…you shouldn’t be unsure of what you want to learn next, and you certainly shouldn’t feel bad if college isn’t for you (or it just isn’t for you right now). Everyone has their own path.
Deciding what you want to be educated in is something that should come easy for you. If you aren’t sure right now, that's ok. Take some time to think.
Now, use what you’ve learned and take some time to test the water, in whatever way feels the best to you. I promise you will be just fine, and I will be happy for you.
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For more on my experience as a college admissions counselor check out my article: A College Admissions Counselor’s Fall From Grace.