Tagged: gap year

American University Adds DC Semester Gap Program

The AU Gap Program allows students taking a gap year of gap semester to work at an internship in DC three full days a week while living on campus and taking a college seminar in International Affairs. Internships are available in politics, journalism, business, tech, social justice, environmental advocacy and more. In addition to the online application, applicants must submit the following supplemental items electronically or via mail: High school transcript(s), A recommendation from your high school academic counselor or teacher, A recommendation from an extracurricular or community contact. Once the required documents are received, applications are submitted to the admissions committee for review and students may be contacted for a phone interview. The Deadline for applying for spring semester is November 15, 2019.

Is Your Best Freshman Year A Gap Year?


The Best Freshman Year Is a Gap Year

June 03, 2018

It’s that time of year again. High-school seniors across the country are finishing their final exams, cleaning out their lockers, and getting ready to walk up on stage to accept their diplomas. The students know where they’re going to college, and they’ll busy themselves over the coming months by looking into meal plans, registering for classes, and contacting their future roommates. Admissions deans are still analyzing yield targets with their staff and are already looking at what they could do differently next year. It’s a predictable cycle — except for one wrinkle.

An increasing number of students are questioning whether they are ready to dive straight into four more years of classroom lectures, research papers, and cramming for exams. Many are exhausted and burned out, eager to refuel their curiosity about the world through the kind of learning that won’t appear on a transcript.

Record numbers of students are contemplating a gap year before college, and they are looking for guidance on this important decision from the very colleges that admitted them. With a few exceptions, most students who inquire about a gap year will receive a silent nod from their admissions counselor and another form to fill out. Is that really the best we can do?Over the past five years, many college-admissions offices have adopted policies that allow students to defer their admission offer for one year. The gap year has become increasingly popular with admissions leaders, who have witnessed firsthand its positive impact on students and campus culture. Yet most colleges have remained resolutely agnostic as to what students should do on their gap year, and how they might pay for it.

At first glance this might make sense. The undergraduate clock starts ticking only when an incoming freshman sets foot on campus. Or does it? Not if you believe, as we do, that one of the most effective ways to improve college outcomes is to improve the inputs. A gap year designed with purpose and intent is a journey of personal growth that helps students successfully transition to college.

At a time when traditional four-year colleges are struggling to stay relevant and high-school graduates are hungry for real-­world experiences, why wouldn’t educators weigh in on the merits of a gap year? Isn’t it time for higher education to help students figure out what kind of experience will help them succeed in college and in life?

We recently worked with a group of experts to define the following key characteristics of a transformative gap year: It is purposeful and practical, involving some element of service to others; it takes students out of their comfort zone, challenging them to learn new skills and try on new perspectives; it offers the right balance of autonomy and mentoring to help students build self-confidence and a sense of purpose; it is accessible to students from all economic backgrounds.

The idea of integrating an experiential gap year with college may sound radical, but many colleges already routinely grant academic credit for service learning, internships, study abroad, and other forms of engaged learning. Education researchers have proven that these so-called high-impact practices improve student retention and engagement in college. However, many undergrads don’t have access to these formative experiences until their junior or senior year. Imagine how much we could amplify the positive effects if we offered students a megadose of high-impact practices at the beginning of college instead of at the end.

Reinforcing this point, the Gallup- Purdue Index, a large study of college graduates that seeks to track college outcomes, has demonstrated that how students go to college is much more important than where they go to college. Longitudinal data from the study show conclusively that the strongest predictors of future success are experiences that require initiative and agency — such as finding a mentor, having an internship, and doing a project that takes a semester or more to complete.

College leaders are desperate to cultivate a greater sense of civic responsibility among their students. In these turbulent political times, this is one of the most pressing challenges facing higher education. Similarly, educators recognize that the power skills of the 21st century — resilience, empathy, collaboration, initiative — are difficult to teach in the classroom. To build these skills, students need to be out in the world grappling with complex issues of identity, equity, diversity, and power. A purposeful gap year is a powerful way to build those muscles.And a growing number of colleges understand that a purposeful year off before college is the best way to ensure that more students arrive on campus prepared to declare both a major and a mission. Pioneering institutions are taking steps to repurpose gap years as transformative bridge years. Could this be the freshman-year makeover we’ve been hoping for?

Tufts and Princeton Universities have designed (and financed) their own service-oriented gap-year programs for incoming students, and several other institutions are exploring similar models. Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina, Florida State University, and Dickinson College all offer scholarships to make meaningful gap-year opportunities accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.

And there are numerous examples of admissions offices — including at Dartmouth College, Brown University, Rice University, Colorado College, and Middlebury College — that have developed useful gap-year resources for all prospective students. This is a perfect moment for other institutions to replicate and adapt these models to their own contexts.

In the next few weeks, admitted students may turn to you for guidance as they contemplate taking a gap year. Will you send them a form, or will you guide them toward a formative experience?

Abigail Falik is founder and chief executive of Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit dedicated to reinventing the gap year. Linda Frey is vice president for strategic partnerships at Global Citizen Year, where she leads the organization’s higher-education partnerships.

I‘ve had clients take a gap year for a variety of reasons.  Lets talk about what you can gain from spending a year, after high school or mid-college.  There are lots of options and many outcomes.  stephanie@accessguidance.com pr 610-212-6679

Graduate From College Debt and Regret Free

How to Graduate From College Debt-Free (and Regret-Free)

Tips from an author who’s been there, done that.  Money  Magazine 9/6/16

Heeding the classic advice to write what you know, Kristina Ellis wrote her first book, 2013’s Confessions of a Scholarship Winner, about how she raked in a reported $500,000 in scholarships to put herself through Vanderbilt University and then graduate school. In a just-released sequel, How to Graduate Debt Free, she shares her advice on borrowing (or better yet, not borrowing) to pay for college. MONEY asked Ellis about how students and parents can make the right decisions now—and maybe avoid some big regrets down the road.


MONEY: Do you think parents often aren’t open enough with kids about what they can afford to contribute toward college?

Ellis: Yes, I do believe that. Many parents think they are protecting their kids’ dreams by not divulging their financial standings. But one of the biggest favors parents can do for their children is sitting down and having real conversations about money sooner, rather than later. My mother sat me down on the first day of my freshman year in high school and explained that I would be on my own financially when I graduated. While it was hard to hear, knowing my situation early allowed me to make a plan so that I could stand out when it came time to apply for college and scholarships. Having a plan and strategy allowed me to secure more than $500,000 in scholarships and grants, graduate from Vanderbilt University and receive a master’s degree from Belmont University, all debt-free.

  1. What do you say to a student who has his or her heart set on a particular college that is simply unaffordable?
  2. Many students think they can’t afford their dream school because “there just isn’t a scholarship out there for me.” But there are literally billions of dollars in scholarships given away each year to help students with college expenses—for all sorts of reasons beyond just academic achievement and sports. There are a bunch of niche scholarships for having the best zombie apocalypse escape plan and having the best duct tape prom dress for being tall, for being short, for being right- or left-handed, for having a certain last name. All types of students from all sorts of backgrounds have been highly successful in winning scholarships. Somebody is going to get them. It might as well be you!

But if your dream school isn’t financially realistic, even with scholarships, there are so many great colleges across the country that could also be an excellent fit at a more affordable price. While it can be hard to give up a dream to attend a particular school, being saddled with thousands of dollars in unnecessary student loan debt can be way harder. I’ve spoken to many college grads who felt heartbroken going into college on a full ride at a public university versus attending the private school they dreamed of. However, in the long run, many have deemed it the best decision of their life. They still got a great education, had an awesome college experience, and ultimately got their dream job—with zero debt.

  1. What do you think of taking time off between high school and college to earn money for college?
  2. Taking a year off to volunteer, travel, or intern in a career field can be a good option as long as you stay motivated to return to school. However, if the purpose of the year is to earn money for college, students need to bear in mind how it will affect their financial aid package. When they do attend college, if they plan to rely on need-based grants and work-study, the money they made during that year could count against them in future financial aid applications. The Student Income Protection Allowance currently stands at $6,400, meaning students can make up to that amount before it counts against them. Beyond that, though, they can decrease their financial aid eligibility by 50% of every dollar they earn.

Therefore, be wise about your decision by seeking to understand its long-term impact. You may find that applying for more scholarships, working during college, or completing a co-op is a more effective way to earn money for your college education.

  1. Would you urge students to work during college even if they don’t need the money?
  2. Yes, I would encourage students to work during college. Studies consistently show that students who work a modest 10 to 15 hours per week are more likely to succeed in college than those who don’t work at all. Not only can it put egap year,xtra money in their pockets during school, but it can also foster qualities that are known to produce success, such as a greater sense of responsibility, a better ability to organize themselves, and a stronger work ethic. Plus, those additional years of work experience are a prime way to build up their résumé in ways that will appeal to employers.


  1. In your book you mention taking a risk after you graduated—turning down a well-paying corporate job to take your chances as a writer. Do you think many young people today are too risk-averse because of financial fears?
  2. I think we’re seeing a strong mix of both, primarily hinging on whether or not they have student loan debt. Walking away from college knowing you are about to owe $500 a month to a loan company before any other basic expense is factored is daunting and can strap a student into a more “safe” journey.

On the other hand, we’re seeing more entrepreneurialism, millennial travelers, blog writers, and social activists. Many young people are taking risks in their twenties, before marriage, mortgage, and major career commitments.

One of my greatest goals is to help students graduate as debt-free as possible so that they have the financial freedom to choose. Even without student loan debt, they still may select a safer route, but they’ll have options. There’s a beauty to starting your life and career based on what you feel is truly best for you long-term, versus the safest way to pay your loan-debt obligations.

  1. Is there anything you’d do differently if you were back in college today, knowing what you know now?
  2. Yes, absolutely. First, I would be way more intentional about networking within my broader school community. It’s easy to get caught up in classes and peer events, overlooking the incredible opportunity to build strong, long-term relationships with professors and alumni. People typically love to help college students, and if I could do it again, I’d be bolder in reaching out and maintaining a larger campus-affiliated community.


And second, I would have studied abroad. When I was in college, I got very focused on working and networking within the Nashville community. I traveled on the weekends singing with a band while also building a marketing business. After several semesters of putting it off, I finally said, “I’ll live abroad someday, once I’ve built a successful career.” Looking back, I really wish I had seized the opportunity then. While I’ve since traveled to several countries, I haven’t fully immersed myself in international culture and learning the way I believe I would have been able to in college.


College grads with extensive debt can’t buy cars or homes, perhaps aren’t able to rent an apartment.  Debt has an impact on the economy.  I can help you find great colleges that won’t put you in the poor house or living in your parents basement.  Financial planning should be part of any college planning.  stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679.










Is There a Gap Year In Your Future?

Malia Obama isn’t the only his school graduate taking a gap year before moving into a college dorm. Many Ivy League and other competitive colleges and universities encourage a break between the stress of college admissions and the tough work of higher education.

Uncollege posted the following article on its website this summer. Uncollege is an organization with the mission of helping students make appropriate educational choices, including alternatives to traditional higher education.

The article covers the advantages of taking a year off to clarify motivation and goals. If you are considering a break or need time to explore your career direction, you’ll find support for the idea.

Gap Years Posted by Uncollege.org 2016
Colorful-Backpacks-for-school__IMG_8492-150x150Parents and counselors play an important role supporting a young adult during the difficult process of deciding which step to take after high school. While a Gap Year may not be right for every student, we feel the outcomes provide fantastic benefits to most students, and we’re dedicated to providing those students and with the resources needed to make that decision.
There are legitimate questions to consider such as if a gap year participant will have a difficult time finding a job, or returning to school. We completely understand, and there’s good news.
Gap Years are increasing in popularity with both students and higher education institutions. Research shows that students who participate in a Gap Year program have higher GPAs, are more likely to graduate than their peers, experience higher job satisfaction, and perform better in their first semester at college. Harvard, who encourages incoming students to take a Gap Year, has seen a 33% jump in the number of students taking a Gap Year over the past decade, while MIT’s deferments have doubled in the past year. Furthermore, 90% of students who take a Gap Year return to school afterwards.

Gap Years Are:
Attractive to Universities
While we don’t always hear a lot about them, Gap Years are already well established in higher education and are encouraged by top tier colleges and universities – Harvard recommends all admitted students take a Gap Year. Furthermore, research shows that 90% students who take Gap Years return to college and have higher GPAs, are more likely to graduate college, and report higher job satisfaction.
So many students could benefit by taking a Gap Year. I make a point of talking about them with all of my students. – Alex Ellison, College Counselor
Enriching for Students
Students around the globe have taken Gap Years for decades as a transition period prior to college. Their experience gives them insight and enriches their educational experience. A Gap Year can set students apart from their peers as they re-enter the classroom revived, motivated and more independent than ever before. As graduation rates support, gap years are a sure way to increase your chance for success at the collegiate level.
Attractive to Employers
UnCollege’s Gap Year Program is designed both to supplement and enrich the college Acer-Aspire-One-Notebooks__52937-150x150experience or to stand as an alternative to college. Companies like Google are moving away from requiring degrees, focusing instead on applicant’s experience and skills. Gap Year Fellows participate in internships which provide them with valuable work experience, help them develop skills, and give them insight into their own career goals. We’ve even had a few Fellows start their own companies!After the year-long Gap Year Program, Fellows are far more appealing to employers than their recently graduated counterparts because they have a portfolio of experience and real world skills to bring to a job.
Taking a Gap Year is an exciting, challenging, and enlightening experience. Based on our experience with Fellows we feel strongly that students of the Gap Year program can only thrive with the support of their parents and community. UnCollege partners with parents, students, and counselors to help provide the resources needed to make an informed decision about taking a Gap Year and to customize the Program to fit the goals of each student.

Who might be right for a Gap Year?
• Students exploring career options
• Students interested in alternatives to a four-year degree
• Students craving adventure and life experience
• Students attending college, but who want time off to clarify their goals
• Students motivated to succeed without college

Me again: There are many choices for gap years other than Uncollege. Give me a call to learn more. 610-212-6679 or stephanie@accessguidance.com

For Computer Geeks, Experience May Trump the Degree


Sometimes the path to college isn’t a straight line. If you plan to study computer engineering in college, maybe you should consider putting off matriculation in favor of some hands on experience.   

Experience can be a valuable detour in many fields but the example I have is about an engineering student.



Masa Bando’s parents were not excited.

Their son had made it into MIT, but wasn’t planning to attend. At least not right away.

Bando was planning to take a year off to immerse himself in a more practical form of learning computer science than a textbook could teach. After graduating from high school, Bando attended a summer program at Make School, and then became a member of its founding class in September 2014. He figured that MIT’s generous deferral policy (which allows students to postpone admission for up to two years) could act as a safety net in case he wasn’t satisfied with the learning experience at the San Francisco-based alternative school.

One month shy of officially finishing Make School’s course—which included iOS, Ruby on Rails, and web development—Bando’s preliminary job hunt yielded an offer for a software engineering position at Papaly, a social bookmarking startup, at a salary just north of $90,000.

MIT will have to wait. And Bando’s parents? They are now “very supportive” of their son’s leap into the real world.

The other 10 students in the founding class (two of whom are women) just finished the program at the end of February. A couple had earned degrees already, while others left the likes of Bowdoin, Cal Poly, and the University of Maryland to come to Make School. Now, a few are headed to internships and the others are jumping into full-time jobs. All of which helps pay for their Make School course. But more on that in a bit.

For Ashu Desai, a cofounder of Make School, Bando’s story validates a long-held belief that computer-science degrees from traditional universities may not be the best path into a highly competitive job market in this sector.

The unemployment rate in the IT sector is about half the national average, at just 3%.
Desai himself was just 15 years old when he built an app that sold 50,000 copies on the App Store. “This was the coolest educational experience I ever had,” Desai tells Fast Company. He was able to see computer science as a really creative field that was about much more than getting grades. “It opened doors to internships and job opportunities,” he says.

Though he’d already built and shipped a product, Desai decamped to UCLA to earn a degree in computer science. It wasn’t long before he was frustrated by relearning some of the concepts he’d already put into practice and others that were not related to building products.

He dropped out after a year and teamed up with a high school buddy, Jeremy Rossmann, who was frustrated by the college experience, and left MIT. Though Desai admits he was lucky to have sold a successful app before even being eligible to vote, he and Rossmann believed there had to be a way to offer more students the same experience.

In 2012, they founded MakeGamesWithUs. Backed by Y Combinator, the summer intensive program focused on building games for the iPhone that high school and college students could then sell on the App Store and tweak, as needed, when customers report bugs or ask for additional features.

“The idea was if you can build a simple self-contained game, then you could build apps and more complicated products,” says Desai. This past summer, 120 students in New York, San Francisco, and Palo Alto took part in the program. The curriculum they developed is also being used at Carnegie Mellon and MIT. The expansion beyond games led to the name change to Make School.

Desai and Rossmann soon realized that supplementing traditional education with a short summer program on practical product development was not enough. Make School’s next class will be a full two-year program with a six-month internship sandwiched between two eight-month semesters. It’s longer and more intensive than a hack school, which Desai says often aims to take those with no previous knowledge of coding and turn them into ninja developers in eight to ten weeks (while still promising six-figure salaries upon completion).

Make School’s 50 open slots aren’t easy to snag and require that prospective students have some programming experience. Yet even with a two-year program—which Desai points out also includes theory and communication courses, as well as coding and developing practice—Make School isn’t accredited (yet) to give an associate’s degree. That sort of bridge diploma is offered by many technical colleges that focus on teaching students practical skills needed to get jobs in health care or manufacturing, for example, or to go on to complete a bachelor’s degree.

But why invest the money in higher education if there is no guarantee a company will hire you? College tuition is rising faster than inflation, according to a Bloomberg report. The total amount borrowed by all students currently tops $106 billion, and the average student debt for the class of 2013 was over $28,000.

In contrast, students at Make School pay tuition through their internship earnings and 25% of their earnings in the first two years on the job. If the employer pays a placement fee, that percentage is reduced. There is no official dorm, but Make School is working with a housing partner to place students who don’t live in the Bay Area with peer roommates. This isn’t free, but part-time contract work is available in the second term to cover part of those expenses. Teaching a Summer Academy class can also be used toward payment of living expenses.

Besides teaching coding and product development, Make School’s emphasis is on filling the skills gap and helping students find jobs.

The unemployment rate in the IT sector is about half the national average, at just 3%; and in the first half of last year, over 400,000 professionals voluntarily quit, signaling a confidence that it’s a candidate’s market.

Desai’s experience talking to friends in the startup world bears this out. They say it is hard to hire good talent and they were not finding candidates with the skills they were looking for even among students who had earned four-year computer science degrees.

When Jacob Rosenberg, the CTO of LendUp, found out that Desai and Rossmann were looking to place candidates with partner companies, he wanted to get his startup involved. “My goal when building a technology team is to hire people that are both smart and effective, and (in my experience) actually building something is the only way you learn to be effective,” he says.

The program is so new that Rosenberg has yet to hire a Make School graduate yet and admits that some hiring managers may not feel confident about a candidate who’s got only a handful of apps instead of a degree from a traditional university.

“It’s my experience that hiring managers still do favor candidates who have top-tier schools on their résumés,” says Rosenberg, adding that that only gets a candidate past the résumé stage. “Once you are participating in an interview or work-sample project, actually having relevant skills and knowledge and understanding how to apply them is what will matter,” he contends. “As a manager, I give special attention to entry-level candidates who attended a school with a work/co-op program, e.g. Waterloo, for the same reasons.”

What if we were the world’s first product university?
On the flip side, students like Bando were eagerly lapping up everything Make School offers. Bando says, “Right after the day technically ended around 5 p.m., I would not mind spending another seven hours on my current project,” sharing apps with the other students.

“Once you realize working and building can be so fulfilling, like when someone cares enough to report a bug, I don’t understand why more schools aren’t going into this direction,” Desai says.

Upending the current higher education model, in which professors teach the same thing every year, Make School would iterate just as the products its students build: through feedback. “How can we teach better?” he muses.

Desai points out that most universities focusing on research often don’t see the fruits of their work for a decade. “What if we were the world’s first product university?” he posits. In other words, he’s envisioning designing the entire Make School experience with teachers (currently a group of individuals with real-world, as opposed to academic, credentials) working with students on open-source projects. “They could be building really cool products that help people’s lives now.”