Fall Semester

A Year of Purpose

May 18, 2020

With all the uncertainty surrounding whether students will be able to be on college campuses this fall, many newly admitted college students (and currently enrolled ones) are thinking about what their options may be if they cannot study on campus. These issues are different for newly admitted students who may be considering deferring the start of college – to take what is traditionally called a “gap year” – and currently enrolled students who may want to take a leave of absence.  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Every college or university has its own policies for each category of students, and policies will vary among colleges. Students must start by contacting the school where they have decided to attend or where they are currently enrolled. For newly admitted students, some colleges have offered a “no questions asked” policy of allowing students to defer until the Spring semester (when colleges anticipate being on campus, although there is no guarantee that on-campus learning will be able to take place then either) and some colleges have told newly admitted students who wish to defer that they cannot guarantee a spot for the following year (i.e., fall 2021). Newly admitted students should remember that requests for a deferral are just that – requests – and colleges may ask for an explanation of how a student intends to spend the year. Policies for leaves of absences for currently enrolled students also vary from college to college.
  1. Whether you are a newly admitted student considering a “gap year” or a currently enrolled student considering a leave of absence, it is of critical importance that the 2020-2021 academic year be spent in a valuable, intentional way. Options vary for each category of students, depending on where they are in their academic career, but the message is the same: spend your time purposefully.
  1. Newly admitted college students might find one of these programs of interest. These programs vary – some involve international travel and some have refocused on staying local, some include college credit, and some intentionally do not – but each are well-regarded:
  • American University Gap Program is modeled on American’s Washington Semester Program for college juniors. The program, housed on the American University campus in Washington, D.C. (or virtually if need be), involves a three-day per week internship and a college seminar that can give a student up to 7 pre-matriculation college credits. American University is committed to running the program this fall, whether on-campus or virtually.
  • Global Citizen Year is a gap year designed to foster leadership through an international immersion experience. Global Citizen Year has canceled its international programs for the 2020-2021 academic year and instead is launching a domestic leadership program.
  • Parachute Bridge is an experiential education program that helps high school students grow as individuals and develop skills that will help them in college and their careers. Based out of Nashville, TN, students will have an opportunity to intern, hike the Blue Ridge Mountains and learn life skills like cooking and investing.
  • Verto Education is an international gap year program that offers students an opportunity to earn college credit and satisfy general education requirements. Verto has partnered with a diverse network of colleges and universities and is also open to students who will attend an out-of-network college (although Verto cannot guarantee the transfer of credit). Verto intends to run its international programs this fall, traveling to countries that are safe.
  1. Newly admitted students may also decide that they do not want to participate in a curated program during a deferral. Abby Falik, the founder of Global Citizen Year, recommends the following four things for a student to do if they decide not to go directly to college: 1) follow their heartbreak – find a cause or issue that breaks their heart, that they cannot ignore; 2) define their questions – figure out what they want to learn about the cause and about themselves; 3) find their teachers – people who can help learn about the cause or issue; and 4) build out a crew of like-minded students who want to tackle this issue.
  1. Currently enrolled college students considering a leave of absence should secure an internship or job (even if it is virtual) or engage in meaningful research. They should use this time to develop skills that will be of value when they return to college and when they start their career.  College students can use their Career Centers as a resource and may also consider connecting with Parker Dewey, a company that offers micro-internships for college students and recent graduates.
  1. Newly admitted and currently enrolled college students may also find meaningful volunteer work. Public officials and educators have floated some interesting ideas, including a “Tutor Corps” to help educate K-12 students who lost valuable classroom time this spring (and who may also not be able to return to school in the fall) and a “Coronavirus Corps” to help with contact tracing and tracking.

Regardless of whether a student chooses a curated gap year, designs their own adventure secures an internship, or engages in meaningful volunteer work, the main takeaway: the 2020-21 academic year needs to be a year of purpose. 

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Kate Sonnenberg, Author

Kate Sonnenberg is an independent educational consultant for Montclair-based KS College Success. Prior to launching her own consulting company, she was an application reader at Princeton University’s admissions office where she read thousands of undergraduate applications. Kate also volunteered for nearly a decade with the Princeton University Alumni Schools Committee and chaired the committee that interviewed students in northern New Jersey. She has also taught legal writing in law school and English composition at the National University of Singapore.

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