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Thinking About a Post Grad Year? Here's What You Should Consider

Authored By: 
Krista Sergi, College Guidance Counselor

Gap year, PG year, post-graduate year – whether you have heard one or all of these terms, they represent the increasingly common practice of taking the year between high school graduation and the beginning of college to hone specific skills, increase academic preparedness, or try out career options through internships and other application-based opportunities. 

Whenever I bring up the idea of a post-graduate year, I often hear these concerns from parents:

  • I’m worried about taking a year off and what that will do to my child’s motivation for college.

  • My child didn’t really love high school, so taking a break might make her decide she doesn’t want to go to college at all.

  • Will this look bad to the colleges?

And these concerns from students:

  • If I stay here for my gap year, will people think I’m repeating?

  • Won’t colleges think it’s bad that I wasn’t ready for college this year?

  • What if, after the PG year, I still don’t know what I want to do?

As a student of adolescent development, I am surprised that it has taken this long for post-grad years to increase in popularity. If every student was academically, financially, and emotionally ready for college at 18, universities wouldn’t have to be quite so concerned about “six-year graduation rates,” which is the percentage of students who finish at a particular college within six years. When colleges looked at these metrics more than a decade ago, it forced a national conversation about “readiness” and whether it is fair to admit students who might not be able to complete a university level program for a myriad of reasons. This is when post-graduate programs, many of which had been quietly taking place for years, got to step into the spotlight. As a society we are beginning to embrace the benefits of this practice. 

How Does a High School Post-Graduate Year Work?

PG years come in a variety of structures, modalities, and lengths. Here are a few to consider:

Academic Preparation

Most high schools offer post-graduate years to graduating seniors. Students use the extra year to advance coursework in some subjects and remediate skills that are not yet at college level. Students can take AP classes they didn’t have the pre-requisites for, advance to a higher level in math, get in another year of a lab science, and explore a variety of electives. Some students have the option to attend a PG year part-time and use the rest of their time to work in order to save money for college and/or expand their resumes. 

Experiential Education

Post-graduate high school programs such as AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association get young adults out into the field. They provide opportunities to build houses, refurbish green spaces, tutor, conserve trails, and so much more, all under the guidance of caring mentors. They are also a great choice for students who want to pursue service-oriented careers or students who need to get out and get moving after four years of sitting in the classroom. These programs are inspiring and invigorating, and provide the added bonus of looking great on a college application once the PG year is complete.

Specific Gap Year Programs

Both colleges and companies run a robust variety of programs for students with different gap year goals. American University, for example, runs a highly structured program that includes introductory-level college skills courses, trips, and a more structured dorm experience. If students are on the fence about college, this is a program to consider. Other programs offer a year of structured travel with other young adults, volun-tourism (where students can volunteer and travel), or internships within a variety of organizations. Just keep in mind that the majority of these post-grad year programs are for-profit, so while they provide invaluable experience, it may not be the best fit for the student who is not financially prepared for college.

Internships and Job Exploration

Finally, for students who want to experience different careers, especially the types of careers where it is critical to begin those studies as a freshman, this is a useful option. Many companies and nonprofits offer internships or long-term volunteer opportunities to students who want to know if they have what it takes to work in a certain field. Law offices, hospitals, media companies, and tech firms, among others, will often post internship opportunities for high school graduates. 

Is a PG Year Worth It?

The biggest takeaway here is that it is OK to take a gap year. With the right post-graduate program, it can be one of the most enriching years in a young adult’s life. Colleges are looking for students who are ready, and they value those students who know that they need another year of high school study, a year in the field, or a year to earn money in order to make the most of their college experience. If I could do it all over again, I would most certainly have taken this option.