NS College Consulting Blog

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Gap Year: What to Know Before You Defer

It is no secret that the world looks drastically different than it did only a couple of months ago. Our day-to-day lives have been uprooted and replaced with social distancing and public safety recommendations. The pandemic has altered more than just our daily lives. For many graduating seniors, these past few months have caused students to reconsider the plans they had made for the fall, primarily their decision to be on-campus come August. 

Due to the new, ever-evolving ‘normal’, many are looking into deferring their enrollment and considering taking a gap year. Though these options may seem like no-brainers—because who wants to exchange their first semester of college for an at-home, online experience—college leadership across the nation is warning incoming freshmen to proceed with caution. 

According to an article by US News, the National Center for Education Statistics has found that high school graduates who delay college enrollment by a year tend to earn their degree at a lower rate than those students who enroll immediately. Additionally, many colleges have strict policies surrounding the deferment process, which if not properly researched could to lead well-intentioned students losing their spot or having to re-apply next year.  

We spoke with experts in the college gap year process and wanted to share with you some of their important tips to consider when contemplating deferment. In light of the current challenges COVID-19 has presented, it is wise to reflect upon your motivations for attending college in the first place. Taking time to remember why you have decided to pursue your dreams through earning a degree may shed light on the path forward that is right for you. 

Gap Year Programs—Reimagined 

Traditional gap year programs, like Rustic Pathways or Verto Education, offer students the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or full year prior to starting their freshman year of college. Though traveling may sound appealing after spending months cooped up at home, understand that international travel is very unlikely at this time and presents many challenges that would typically not occur in years past. 

Traveling abroad, even to remote areas, is dangerous considering how quickly governments have chosen to restrict travel in and out of their country in response to COVID-19. This could leave students stuck in foreign, unfamiliar places, with limited options to return home. The reality is that COVID-19 has changed the international travel experience, replacing what used to be an incredible opportunity for students with a nightmare of ‘what-if’ scenarios. 

As mentioned before, Verto Education offers students the unique experience to begin their college careers abroad, providing an alternative path toward a college degree. These programs are typically 12-weeks in length and allow students to either study in a structured, more traditional program, or gain field experience with varying academic focuses. Though many of Verto’s options are international and likely compromised by travel restrictions, they do offer a program in Hawaii, which may be an option for students who are determined to have a gap year. 

Regardless, the entire gap year industry is responding to the current pandemic by reviewing and revamping their offerings. Many are focusing on risk management by considering single-country options with no home stays and limited travel. Some are even incorporating an online component to begin, with hopes to finish with in-person field experiences. One option is a centrally themed experience that all students participate in remotely and earn a certification for finishing. For example, students could learn the basics of diving through an online platform, practice in their local pools, and then earn a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification for completing the course. Though programs are offering remote or online experiences, it is worth considering whether deferring your admission to participate in a virtual gap year program is considerate of your time and finances. 

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

If taking a gap year aligns with your personal and academic goals, we recommend taking these next steps to ensure that your collegiate future won’t be jeopardized by your decision:

  1. Know the Rules

Amidst the current pandemic, many colleges and universities are not allowing students to cite COVID-19 as their reason for delaying their enrollment. In fact, some schools have tightened their policies to restrict deferments only to those students participating in structured programs or those seeking military service or religious pursuits. Again, this is why it is important to reflect upon your true intentions for deferment. Schools will likely want a detailed explanation of what you hope to learn and accomplish during your gap year before even considering your request for deferral. 

Each institution will have different rules, and having a clear understanding of these rules prior to beginning the process is important. In fact, most colleges who will approve gap years, won’t grant credit for community college classes or experiential courses you complete during a gap year.

For instance, Indiana University allows students to defer for up to one year, with some stipulations on the amount of credits students can earn during that time. In order to be granted a deferral, students will have to provide a description of their plans, often proving their participation in a certain program or course. With this in mind, they do not allow students to take more than 12 credit hours during their deferment period, otherwise they will be classified as a transfer student, which can change their admission status and financial aid opportunities. 

  1. Know the Deadlines

Just as colleges have certain application deadlines, they often follow similarly strict policies regarding deferring enrollment. It is critical that you know exactly when your college’s deadline is. Though meeting this deadline will not guarantee approval of your request, missing it by even a day could foil the chances of being granted a deferment. 

Many institutions grant deferrals on a rolling basis, only allowing so many every year. Submitting your request early is often your best chance of being approved. Be aware that there is typically a conflict in dates between college and gap year program deadlines, so make sure you have them written down or saved in your calendar! 

  1. Know the Risks

While the reward of pursing a gap year may seem enticing, we encourage you to consider the risks involved when deferring your enrollment for a semester or longer. For instance, some schools may not offer a guarantee on your admission or merit scholarship after this year. At some colleges you might have to apply all over again. These risks could have a long-lasting impact on your education and are certainly worth exploring in depth.

To diminish the possibility of losing your spot, arrange a time to chat with your school’s admissions counselor over the phone to discuss the ramifications of deferring your enrollment. Make a list of all your questions, even those that you might not want to know the answers to! 

Confirm that your merit scholarship will still be available—and at the same amount—once you are ready to enroll in classes. Ask whether you can take CLEP exams for the credits not granted to you from your gap year. Verify that the registrar’s office will accept your credits, regardless of what the website might say. Inquire about the number of requests the college typically grants and whether your admission will be conditional upon your request being accepted. Being informed about these vital questions will help set you up to make a well-informed decision about your future.

Making the Best Decision for You

With the uncertainty circulating around how colleges will react and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has certainly been an increase in interest and publicity surrounding the gap year. Graduating seniors are seeking normalcy after an extraordinary end to their high school careers and a gap year may provide that sense of normalcy for some students.   

While the idea of a year abroad or away from the traditional college experience may sound appealing, it is important to be aware of the benefits and consequences of pursuing that path. Ask the hard questions early. Be transparent about your academic and personal goals. Accept that your gap year may look different than you had imagined. As always, stay true to yourself and consider every option before deciding whether a gap year is right for you.  

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Friday, May 22, 2020

Letter to the Class of 2020

To the Graduating Class of 2020,

Over the past month, our phones and emails have been alive with questions, concerns and plenty of emotional conversations with your fellow senior classmates and their parents. More often than not, we are left unable to answer your most pressing questions, simply because there is not one universal solution to the current pandemic we are facing. While we don’t have all the answers, we are honored to act as a resource for you and your family during this difficult time.

Trust us, we understand the difficult emotions and disappointments you are rightly experiencing. Debbie and Amy, the co-owners of North Shore College Consulting, each have a graduating high school senior this year, and their hearts go out to all of you. As children born during September 11th and now looking to begin college in the midst of a global pandemic, you have already shown great strength and resilience that will motivate you to go change the world. Personally, we cannot wait for that day to come.

We wanted to share some context and information to help provide a better idea of the options colleges and universities across the nation are considering for the upcoming fall 2020 semester. It is important to keep in mind that institutions are not making a single plan for the upcoming academic year. Instead, most are creating multiple contingencies to account for every possible scenario and to set their students up to be both safe and successful. It is imperative that you stay updated on the direction your college is taking, which you can monitor here. Many schools who have not made formal announcements will likely do so as early as this week, or as late as mid-July. Regardless, there are still many questions left unanswered, but here is what we know today.

A Freshman Year Fully Online? 

It is hard to imagine experiencing your freshman year of college from the comfort of your own home. Frankly, this is the reality for many universities in areas hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to our data, roughly 58% of colleges and universities have already made the decision to move at least a portion of their classes online for the fall 2020 semester, with many more strongly considering it as an option. Those institutions who have already chosen to operate virtually through the end of 2020 will likely monitor the situation closely, and from those findings make a decision about how their spring 2021 semester will take form. Experiencing college virtually will have its fair share of benefits and concerns, but we encourage you to take time to reflect on your unique learning style and decide whether fully online will be the best option for you.

Embracing the Hybrid Model
Another option many universities are considering is adopting a semester plan that combines an online and in-seat component. This ‘hybrid model’ has many variations, with each possibility being designed to fit the unique needs of each campus and student body. Nearly 62% of institutions are cutting back on in-person classes, with even more choosing to move the majority of classes to some sort of online format. Some hybrid models include:

  • Starting classes online then transitioning to in-person learning once it is safer for the campus community to reconvene.

  • Delaying the start of the fall semester to later in the summer or early fall

  • Transitioning to a trimester system, which would provide flexibility for colleges still deciding between in-person or online learning. 

  • Creating an altered in-person class schedule. For instance, a course of 50 students could be split into two groups, with one group of 25 meeting on Monday/Wednesday, and the other 25 meeting on Tuesday/Thursday. This model encourages small class sizes but could certainly be tricky for lecture-style courses designed for 150+ students. 

  • Designing classes that meet only once weekly, with the bulk of lecture and assignments being completed online. 

While working to keep up with ever-changing federal and state recommendations, it is easy to see why many colleges and universities are looking into hybrid models. They provide the safety and flexibility of online coursework, while not completely ruling out the possibility of having students back on campus.

Back to (The New) Normal
College campuses are sacred ground. For students, professors, and campus administrators, there is no better place than a fully functioning, vibrantly active campus. Perhaps this is why the large majority of institutions, nearly 70% according to the Chronicle on Higher Education, are pushing to be back on campus this fall. But while students may be allowed to arrive on campus come August, it is unrealistic to believe that life will simply pick back up where it left off in March. Athletic and other campus events will likely have no fans in the stands—and that’s only if they are given the green light to participate in the first place. Chances are, residence halls and libraries will implement strict policies to encourage social distancing, student health and public safety. Although your classes may be in-person, you might be required to have one or two seats between students. Needless to say, it is going to be different. At this point, every college, regardless of public statements to the contrary, is far from sure what form the next academic year will take. We do know, however, that it will almost certainly look and feel different than it has in the past.

Important Services Make the Move Virtual
While it is unclear what each individual institution is choosing for fall 2020, there does seem to be one common thread amongst colleges and universities—moving services online. Many of these services are designed for new, incoming freshmen and include advising, testing, and class registration.

  • Two-thirds of institutions have moved or are considering moving to remote course placement testing for incoming freshmen. These tests are important in determining which level of science, math, or English you can enroll in. Virtual placement tests will still include proctoring and other security features but will allow you to test from the comfort and safety of your home.

  • More than half of colleges and universities have moved or are moving to remote advising for freshmen. Online advising will likely take place over the phone, via video chat, or through a combination of other platforms. These appointments are critical to starting your college career off on the right foot, so we certainly encourage making the most of your advising appointment by being prepared (aka, answering the phone when they call you!). 

  • Another 53% of schools have extended or are in the process of extending the course registration window for new, incoming students. However, do not view this extension as an opportunity to push off important deadlines. Rather, view it as a gift, allowing you extra time to study and sit for your placement tests or schedule an appointment with an advisor before the window to register closes. 

Is Now the Time to Defer?
Realizing your first semester of college will not be how you have always imagined, some of you might be considering deferring your enrollment for a semester or even a year. Colleges and universities have various policies regarding deferment, including when you can defer, how you must defer, and who you must contact to do so. It is likely that institutions are—or will be—updating their deferment policies as a result of COVID-19. With that said, most schools have strict deferral deadlines, so if you are even vaguely considering it, please research your college’s policy or reach out to your admissions counselor to be certain you don’t miss it!

If you are considering a deferment, we ask that you strongly consider the following questions:

  • How will you feel about not being on campus in the fall if classes are moved online?

  • How do you feel about being on campus while practicing social distancing?

  • How do you feel about your first semester of college looking very different than the experience you had imagined it would be?

  • If you do decide to defer, what will you do to fill your time?

  • With many traditional gap year options off the table this year, how would it feel to spend another semester or year at home, unable to do much?

  • Will you regret being ‘behind’ your peers who decide to not defer their enrollment?

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Senioritis hits students across the country at around the same time. As your senior year of high school draws to a close, it’s only natural for you to switch into autopilot mode. You’ve spent the last four years working harder than you’ve ever worked before toward your academic future.    Read more

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Up Close with College Applications

Time to Apply: Most applications are available to submit sometime between August and December of senior year. It is typically advantageous to apply earlier rather than later, and students should become familiar with the different deadline options available at each school.    Read more

Monday, June 10, 2019

College Admissions: 2019 in Review

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Declared major, or not?

As parents, we can get very worried about the major our son or daughter chooses. This worry is not without merit: what major your son or daughter picks, and whether or not your child sticks with it, may impact not only his or her college experience, but also your wallet, as longer extended college experiences lead to extended tuition payments. However, there is no need to panic: if your child doesn’t know what she wants to do, she is not alone. Going in undecided is hardly an uncommon phenomenon.  

Several years ago, in an issue of Black Issues In Higher Education E. St. John suggested that, “There is, perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut wrenching and rest-of-your-life oriented—or disoriented—than the choice of a major” (St. John, 2000, p. 22). While this may seem slightly hyperbolic, there is some truth in it: choosing a major is a choice that should be intentional and based on knowledge of one’s self, and when the wrong choice is made, the implications can be harsh. From the perspective of parents footing the bill for a four year institution the key to graduating in four years may be picking a major early and sticking with it. College and university administrators have begun implementing various types of institutional resources to assist undecided students when choosing a major, however, not all students are likely to come to college prepared to choose a major. An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided”.  In fact, a new report suggests students who change their major as late as senior year are more likely to graduate from college than students who settle on one the second they set foot on campus.

The report, published by the Education Advisory Board, a research and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., questions the suggestion that changing majors is keeping students in college past their intended graduation date and driving up their debt. Instead of looking at when students first declared a major, the EAB's study explored the connection between students' final declaration and how it affected their time to degree and graduation rates. Most students -- as many as 80 percent in some surveys -- will switch majors at one point during their time in college. According to the report, students who made a final decision as late as the fifth term they were enrolled did not see their time to graduation increase. Even one-quarter of the students who landed on a final major during senior year graduated in four years, the EAB found. Settling on a final major during the second through eighth terms of enrollment did not influence students’ graduation rates, either. Students who declared a new major during any of those terms posted a graduation rate of between 82 and 84 percent.

A better explanation of these numbers can be found by looking at the College Student Journal survey.  More than 800 students who were asked to elaborate on their major decision-making process. Factors that played a role included a (1) general interest the student had in the subject he or she chose, (2) family and peer influence,  and (3) assumptions about introductory courses, potential job characteristics, and characteristics of the major. While these may seem like valid reasons at first glance, the study ultimately implied that students are choosing a major based on external influence and unfounded assumption rather than a thorough understanding of their own personal goals and values.

It might be worthwhile to acknowledge that most students will not be developmentally ready to make effective decisions such as choosing a major. If choosing a major actually means choosing one’s goals, values, and interests based on intentional self-reflection and understanding of one’s self, then first-year students may simply not be ready.

Fortunately, it is not all bad news; there are practical solutions to address this inherent disconnect. The simplest is to take some summer school classes at a local community college or apply for an internship in the area of prospective interest. Both of these will immerse the student in the course work or career in which they anticipate interests and allow for an accurate assessment of actual fit.  Prospective freshmen, be they ready or not to choose a major before or in the first year of school will still benefit from undergoing a structured period of self-reflection. Ultimately, a student who makes an informed decision based on personal goals and values will be more engaged in the college experience and more successful academically, personally, and professionally.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Summer Strategies for Rising Seniors

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Researching Colleges is Actually Fun

But you rising seniors already know that, right? That’s because you have been researching colleges for months now, because of the great advice we gave you back in February.   Read more

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