All About Gap Years

Episode #85. Host Jonathan Hughes talks with Co-Director of College Counseling at Gann Academy, Sherri Geller, about gap years, a period of time when students take a break from school, usually between high school and college. Sherri discusses what a gap year is, how students can research different programs, how colleges respond to students taking gap years, and more. If you enjoy the MEFA Podcast, please leave us a review.

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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Sherri Geller’s Previous episode

Gap Year Association


0:00 Introduction

1:39 Interview with with Sherri Geller


Sherri Geller: [00:00:00] Some students have learned about gap year opportunities and have planned. In advance and other students see how senior year is going and then realize that maybe a breather would be a helpful thing When students are going to do a formal program the application process typically doesn't happen until winter of senior year So often after students have filed applications Sometimes a student might apply, though, much later into the spring, and some students don't do a formal program. They're taking a gap year, but they don't have to worry about having everything so organized.

Jonathan Hughes: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the MEFA Podcast. My name is Jonathan Hughes, and you just heard from our guest on the show today, Sherri Geller. She's returning to our show to talk about gap years. That is [00:01:00] a year between. graduating high school and starting college and we're going to talk all about those What form they might take whether they're planned or unplanned and how that fits into the whole admissions and financial aid process so if you are a student who is considering a gap year whether it's through a specific program or just taking a year off after high school Take a listen to this show. I think it's going to be really helpful to you. I'm going to be back later on at the end of the show to wrap things up, but now let's let our guest reintroduce.

Sherri Geller: Sure. Hi, I'm Sherri Geller. I'm currently Co-Director of College Counseling at Gann Academy, which is a Jewish high school in the Boston area. I've also worked at a few other schools.

I've worked in college admissions at both Brandeis University and Northeastern. I've worked at Dana Hall School, another local independent school. And yeah. I [00:02:00] live in Boston, and for fun, I'm an avid sports fan.

Jonathan Hughes: And I see you got your green on, so for anybody who's listening to this later on, we're recording this the day that the NBA Finals. So Celtics and Mavericks.

Sherri Geller: Go Celtics. Hopefully that will age well.

Jonathan Hughes: Thank you for coming back on the show. If anyone, again, doesn't realize this is your second time on the show, you were here last year, last summer actually, to talk about, I think it was what juniors can do over the summer to prepare themselves for the summer.

For their senior year in their college search, which was great. Today, we're going to talk about gap years. Can you just let everybody know, what is a gap year? And why would a student take a gap year?

Sherri Geller: So the word gap is referring to having a gap or a space between high school and college. It's typically a one year opportunity to do something else other than being in a formal academic environment.[00:03:00]

Some gap years do have an academic component to them, but it's really a breather from formal everyday school until starting at a college or university. So students take them for lots of different reasons. Some take them for religious reasons that they want to explore God, something that they've grown up with and it's been part of a family tradition.

Some just need a break from formal school. Some have a passion or something they'd like to explore, like going to a cooking school for a year or having an opportunity to travel or having an opportunity to do some kind of internship getting some different kinds of experiences before they go to college.

So most students, when they take a gap year are planning to definitely go to college, just putting it off for one year to do something different for a little while.

Jonathan Hughes: And how might this come up in terms of timing? Is this something that people know ahead of time before they even start applying that they're going to take a gap year? Or does it bubble up [00:04:00] after or during the process?

Sherri Geller: Both and yes. In advance. I think some students start asking questions. in junior year or thinking about it over that summer, but many won't make any decisions until senior year. And even if they apply to a program, they don't have to decide that they're definitely going to do it until the spring of senior year after they've been admitted to colleges.

Jonathan Hughes: Do you apply to college as a senior or wait until after you've done your gap year to apply?

Sherri Geller: So both and either in terms of the timing, what's often the Kind of cleanest way to do it and where a student might get the most support is if they apply to college's senior year And then they choose the college that they're going to and meanwhile also make their gap year plans So in making that choice, they know that i'm going to go to this college I'll just do it a year from now and in a moment I can speak a little bit about how that process of asking a college for a deferral request Works, but for some students that's okay part of why they [00:05:00] want to take a gap year is they're not ready to apply to college.

And so some students do go on a gap year and apply from there. One of the challenges if a student's going to be doing a formal program, especially if it's in another country or even another part of this country but not close to home, is that get through senior year and then you leave for your program in the fall and then all of a sudden applications are due.

So you've just started the gap year and now you have to do applications without the support of maybe your high school counselor or family members because all of a sudden it's October, November, or even into December. And you're not in, in that kind of setting to be applying to college. So both can work for students that do apply as seniors.

They apply, they again choose their school and then a student would write a letter to the school saying I'd like to apply to what's called defer admission, which means to put it off for a year and and let the college know what they're doing. Most colleges approve deferral requests. [00:06:00] Some will only approve it if it is a formal program, not just, oh, I want to work for a year.

I want to do something. Sometimes then a college might say you have to reapply. But in many cases if a student is going on a formal organized program and they're not enrolling in a different college because then the student would be a transfer student, then they can get an approval.

Sometimes colleges have a form to fill out, or you might pay a fee to hold your place. But in general, most colleges are pretty flexible about it. And then the student would start a year later. As a freshman, so for housing and for orientation and for getting going in the school, they were first year student. They're just a first year a year later, even though they're a little bit older .

Jonathan Hughes: And you say that typically tends to work better. I know every case is different, but with formalized gap year programs, is that right?

Sherri Geller: If a student is not going to do a formal program, they still would request the time from the college. Some colleges will say, sure, that's fine. And others will say you have to reapply next year. Sure. Often when a student [00:07:00] reapplies, if they've been admitted once, they get admitted again, but you do actually give up that spot, and so there's no guarantee that they'll hold that place for you. If you do a formal gap year through the college that they've approved it, they're literally holding that spot.

So the following year, they're expecting you won't apply other places or make other plans. They're not going to admit someone else because they think you are coming. So you become one of the first people for the class to come. That's entering the following year to have that commitment.

Jonathan Hughes: And can you just give me an idea of a few sort of gap program, gap year programs that are out there that might be familiar to some people?

Sherri Geller: Sure. There's one that I've heard a lot about. It's called Where There Be Dragons. They're a program that they have programs all over the world where students go and have intercultural and cross cultural learning experiences in different parts of the world. I'm at a school where a lot of our students want to choose programs in Israel, and there's an organization called Masa, M A S A, which has a great website to help students [00:08:00] that want to find different kinds of programs.

Some are more religious based, some are more travel oriented, some are more learning oriented. There's an organization called USA Gap Years and they have gap year fairs in person Across the country. They also do some virtual opportunities and they're a great general resource to look at their website and see about some gap years And then there's also an organization called teen life and on part of the teen life website They have lots of different resources For teens, makes sense.

They have a whole section on gap year programs. So some gap year programs are pretty expensive and others are quite modest, but often do have a fee if it's an organized program because it involves staffing and programming components.

Jonathan Hughes: My next question is if you take a gap year and it's something that, maybe it wasn't planned, so you didn't notify colleges or, you weren't sure what your plans were going to be.

In your senior year, you decided to take a gap year [00:09:00] and then you apply after a year of being out of school to colleges. How does that affect an admissions application? Can it help or might it hurt your chances for admissions?

Sherri Geller: I would again say both, but more often help. The help side is that you're a year older. So how your writing may evolve, the topics you might write about, perhaps an experience on a gap year, that you might consider for an essay, how you're looking at colleges. You might have a better sense of who you are after you're done with high school and what your list looks like might be a little different and you're fit for a particular school or community might be a little different.

So there can be lots of positives. The negative is fairly singular but can be A big one. And that's again the lack of assistance and being in the day to day realm when all of your friends and peers are applying to college. I think it's hard for some students to see everyone else getting college decisions and to not have applied.

Now, that is not a reason not to do it, but it's something to [00:10:00] really have awareness about of how is this going to feel? And is that right? On the flip side, I wouldn't want a student applying just to apply and then You know, not wasting their time and their family's time and this college's time and everybody's money if they're applying just to apply.

I want it to be a good, thoughtful decision. But a college would read an application in the same way that they read any application for a first year student. Because again, when you take a gap year, you're not a transfer student. If your gap year is I want to try this college before I go to a different college, then you're a transfer student.

That's different from a gap year where you're not in an organized academic institution. It's there could be a lot of positives to waiting for the students, like maturity and thoughtfulness and opportunity to work on their applications but, it also could be a bit of a negative if the student needs some more support in working through the application.

Every high school will still be able to send a transcript. Every college will still be able to access the information that they need. The application [00:11:00] itself is the same, because it's again for an incoming first year student. Students would have the same requirements, writing an essay. If the school requires testing, they would send their testing from high school, and that's good for several years.

On that note, if a student's going to test, I would actually definitely recommend testing while still in high school, because the further you get removed from high school, the more you start to forget high school math and sometimes other things on the SAT and ACT.

Jonathan Hughes: And now the other thing I want to ask about is financial aid. So what if you decide and it's a relatively late decision to take a gap year and you've already filed your financial aid forms and whatnot. Let's assume they're going to hold your admissions for you, right? What happens with financial aid? Do you need to reapply the following year?

Sherri Geller: So for Federal and government funded financial aid you have to reapply every year. Anyway, financial aid itself doesn't carry. Now, if a student might be offered a merit scholarship, that could vary by college. Some schools will defer the merit [00:12:00] scholarship and you pick it up the next year for all four years. At some colleges, I've seen that the clock starts ticking right when you graduate high school.

So you get it for four years, but if your four years are going to start the end date is still what your original college graduation date. might have been. And there might be some schools that say that they're not going to honor merit. I haven't seen that as much, but it would be a really important question to ask a college where you've gotten financial aid or scholarships, how that would work.

Jonathan Hughes: Let's imagine a student hearing this who's in high school. They're not quite sure that they want to head straight into college the year following high school. How can they determine if a gap year might be right for them?

Sherri Geller: I think a great starting point is to talk to your school. Whoever is might work with you on college applications, whether their title is school counselor, guidance counselor, college counselor, whoever that person is, or maybe it's an advisor in a school because they can probably help tease it out a little bit.

They also may have some other resources. I rattled [00:13:00] some off the top of my head, but these programs, just like colleges are in touch with high schools all the time, sharing information gap. Your programs are also reaching out to. High schools and discussing it with them. There also are a number of gap year fairs and learning opportunities during the year I mentioned some of them and sometimes the people at the gap year programs can help you figure it out There's an organization.

That's local in Massachusetts called dynamic where students have a chance to get- gain some life skills and do some learning and do some internships and things like that They have information sessions all during the year And they're happy to help students figure out would this be a good fit or a good opportunity for me so I think a starting point is with a counselor and then the A next point might be to reach out to one of the gap year programs and ask If you also Google things like should I take a gap here?

You'll of course get all kinds of advice some of it perhaps more helpful than others as happens with [00:14:00] anything on the internet But I think you can find a lot of resources to ask some good starting questions to help We you know be self reflective and think about what might be a good next step

Jonathan Hughes: Sherri before we go Is there anything else you wanted to say?

Sherri Geller: So I just mentioned about looking on the internet for questions to ask if you more specifically Google something like How do I decide if I want to take a gap year or questions to ask when considering a gap year? There are some very helpful resources to help you tease that out. Gap years have become more and more popular.

There have been blogs by college admissions deans writing about the benefits of a gap year. A lot of people are really seeing the opportunities with a gap year to Maybe take a breath from what can be a real craziness in high school and being a very fast pace, have a chance to learn other things, have a chance to explore other passions and just have a different kind of learning.

I like to think of a gap year as. It's not, and I admit I stole this from one of the gap year [00:15:00] companies, but not a year off, just a year on in different ways from traditional learning. So at the school I work at, gap years are fairly popular and students have the opportunity to do something else and they come back to the college that they had intended to go to and pick right up where they left off.

Jonathan Hughes: Well, Sherri, thank you so much for being here. I think this is really helpful for a lot of students and I thank you.

Sherri Geller: Great. Thanks again for having me.

Jonathan Hughes: All right. Go Celtics!

Sherri Geller: Go Celtics!

Jonathan Hughes: All right. That's our show, everyone. I want to thank Sherri Geller. Sherri, thank you for being here. And for educating all of us, myself included, on gap years. If you liked what you heard today on the show and you want to know more from us on planning, saving, and paying for college and career readiness, then, please follow the show.

And you can do that [00:16:00] wherever you find your podcasts. Oh, also, please review us. It helps us to keep doing what we're doing. I'm getting the show out. To folks like you and if you know anybody in your life, family, friends, who have any questions about planning, saving, and paying for college and career readiness, then tell them about the show.

I want to thank our producer Shaun Connolly. I want to thank AJ Yee, Lauren Danz, and Lisa Rooney for their assistance in getting the show posted. Once again, my name is Jonathan Hughes and this has been the MEFA Podcast. Thanks.

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