Taking a Year Off After High School
By Marcia Rubinstien, MA, CEP
In the U.S. the majority of high school graduates continue directly into some form of higher education. But along with those eagerly awaiting college acceptances, there are a handful of serious and capable students that just do not want to go directly to college. At dinner tables across America, when kids first broach the subject unsuspecting parents generally react the same: “You want to do WHAT??!!”
Most parents are disconcerted to learn that their child wants to do something unusual, unexplored, unproved, or even worse, unstructured. But when that child has a learning disability, parents who have been campaigning from the sidelines through four years of high school fear that they will be unable to help their child find support where no office of learning differences exists.
When your child wants to take a year off before college, it is critical to act as you have always acted with regard to her learning needs: validate, investigate, and support.
Try to understand why she feels that a year off is necessary. Empathize with the fact that children with LD generally spend inordinate amounts of time on schoolwork and often are frustrated by their learning differences. A year off can be refreshing and help bring about a new attitude toward learning.
Acknowledge the possibility that your child, though bright, might enjoy success in a field that is not inherently academic. Although it may not be a permanent career option, a year working on an organic farm can be an enriching experience—and provide fodder for a wonderful college essay should she decide to pursue higher education after all.
Do the Homework
Make sure that your child does careful research and has all the information she needs. Students with learning disabilities will probably feel safer and do better in programs that have at least some structure. In order to find out about volunteer programs, work or study abroad, art, music, or special interest programs, search the Internet using keywords such as Gap Year Programs, Service Learning, and College Alternatives. Many cities offer students a chance to do community service through a program called City Year. For study abroad, try the Studyabroad.com Program directory for high school and college students.
Outdoor types should investigate the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.nols.edu), with programs throughout the world that emphasize skills in leadership, decision-making, safety, teamwork, and environmentalism. For those seeking a true wilderness experience, Outward Bound offers courses in a number of locations from Colorado to Patagonia. Other options can be found online by narrowing a Gap Year search to Adventure or Sports Programs.
You may be surprised to learn that an educational consultant can be your best ally even when your child is not planning to go right to college. Many consultants are trained in time-out programs and can help you develop guidelines and schedules for deferring acceptances or applying later. For a local consultant, contact the Independent Educational Consultants Association.
Remember that a child with LD has always chosen different pathways to knowledge. It’s not the destination; it’s the journey that’s important.