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Taking Time Off After High School

High-school and college counselors interviewed by National PTA agree that if a student is taking a year off, he or she should go through the application process in the senior year, be accepted to college, and then, if possible, defer enrollment. Fortunately, all public colleges and universities and a growing number of private schools are now allowing students to defer for a year. Many schools, however, require that the student put down a deposit.

Choosing how to spend the year
High-school counselor John Boshoven encourages his students to think about it as a year "on," not "off." "It's important that the student use the year as a special gift and a time to work on or accomplish something (he or she) is passionate about," says Boshoven, who works at Community High, an alternative, public high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Factoring in the finances
What a high-school graduate does during his or her time off before entering college will largely depend on finances. Students who need to make money might pursue an internship or a type of employment that will enable them to learn more about a particular career. If making money is not a high priority, teenagers might consider volunteer opportunities with private organizations, churches, or governmental agencies. Some high-school graduates combine these approaches by working for awhile, then traveling or volunteering for the rest of the year.

Another option, which requires taking at least two years off, is enlisting in the military. This can allow a young person to explore career interests, as well as eliminate a good chunk of future college costs through various tuition-assistance programs. For example, a two-year enlistment for active duty can earn a GI nearly $20,000 for her college fund.

Keeping college in mind
No matter what students decide, Marybeth Kravets, president of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling and a college counselor at Deerfield Public High School in Illinois, says that college admissions officers will be taking a close look at what teenagers did with the time off. "The question," says Kravets, "is, 'What are they doing with their time to make it constructive?'"

In partnership with National PTA. Adapted from "Choosing a High-Quality After-School Program" in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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