Jill Haley: Alternatives to freshman year in college | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: Alternatives to freshman year in college

A growing trend among students is to look at spending the first year after high school in an untraditional way. After competing for top grades, taking AP classes, and endless studying for SATs and ACTs in high school, some students feel they can benefit from a little self-discovery before heading off to the traditional classroom setting.

While more common in Europe, many students in the U.S. are finding the idea of a gap year intriguing. Taking a gap year makes sense to students who want to spend more time discovering career options and perhaps volunteering or working as an apprentice before committing to a college program. There are organizations that place students around the globe in different gap year opportunities but there are also many low or no-cost, service-oriented programs that offer room and board in exchange for volunteering in schools, agricultural cooperatives or community based organizations.

For students wanting to stay in the United States and work and contribute in local communities, they may want to consider spending a year with AmerCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs focusing on poverty prevention, mentoring youth, disaster relief and environmental sustainability.

Volunteers are given a living allowance and room and board. Those who serve for 12 months will be eligible for an education award to help pay for college.

For high school seniors who want to postpone their freshman year in college, taking a gap year could bring new focus to their lives and allow them to explore options before college.

Colleges track gap year students, and indications are that most do well in college and arrive in college more focused than other freshmen. Other benefits that come with a gap year may be less partying and lower drop-out rates. A well-planned gap year could also increase a student’s odds of being accepted into college.

An innovative new concept for first semester of freshman year was designed by Verto Education. Verto emphasizes that they are NOT a gap year experience but an experiential approach to the freshman year. What is different about this program is that Verto partners with 27 colleges to provide an international experience with programs designed to give students class credits, allowing them to graduate in four years (unlike most gap year programs).

Students apply to Verto during their senior year in high school, instead of applying directly to college. The Verto application is similar to the Common Application and requires test scores, essays and letters of recommendations. When students are accepted into Verto, they are also accepted into one of the colleges they selected that partner with Verto, such as the University of Oregon and Bucknell.

Accredited courses offered by Verto include public health, environmental studies, world languages and art. Overseas locations available to students include the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.

For high school seniors who want to postpone their freshman year in college, taking a gap year could bring new focus to their lives and allow them to explore options before college. For those wanting a different experience, but also want to earn credits, a program like Verto could be just what they are looking for.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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