The idea of completing a post-graduate year before attending college garnered national attention recently when a Boston city councilman advocated for adding an optional 13th year for college-bound students in the Boston Public Schools. The initiative highlights a reality that families and colleges have increasingly recognized in recent years: many high school graduates would benefit from another year of academic and personal growth before tackling the challenge of college.
The independent school world offers many options for a “post-graduate,” or “PG” year. This experience differs from a “gap year,” which is when students take a year between high school and college to work, travel, or explore other nonacademic experiences. By contrast, a PG year takes place in an academic setting to offer students a curricular, social-emotional, and athletic boost.
A few schools specialize in the PG year, particularly for premier student athletes or for students coping with learning differences. Most PG years, however, take place at traditional boarding schools, giving students additional leadership opportunities among their classmates.
Identify the Goals
As with any academic planning, the key to success with a PG year is having a clear sense of what goals students want to accomplish. PG years have long appealed to athletes as another year of growth and training before competing in larger, higher-stakes college arenas.
For students who experienced significant health or family issues earlier in their high school careers, a PG year offers an opportunity to reinforce and focus on their educational and life goals.
Many students who attended private day or public schools appreciate the independence that comes with living away from home, but with a boarding school experience having more structure than a college environment.
Still others desire another year to improve their transcripts—and possibly test scores—to expand their academic reach when applying to colleges.
Pathway to Maturity
Whatever the motivation, in my experience as an educational consultant, no student regrets a PG year. With the requirements of high school diplomas completed, they are free to focus on courses that inspire, challenge, and further the goals they have defined for themselves. The college search is implemented during the PG year, and when these students do enter college, they bring another year of maturity to both their classes and campus life. Research shows that students who have completed a 13th year at secondary school tend to have higher grades and report a higher satisfaction with their university program.
Spring semester before senior year is an excellent time to reflect on whether a PG year is right for your child. By this point, many juniors have a strong sense of what their transcripts, test scores, and general portfolio will look like if they apply to colleges next year.
Caring adults—parents, faculty, coaches, educational consultants—can help students evaluate how a PG year might expand their options in the future. Ideally, students and families would come into the senior year focusing on either a search for the PG experience or a college experience. The post-graduate year is another example of the many, varied paths that an educational journey can take.
Holly McGlennon Treat specializes in helping families interested in independent junior and secondary boarding schools. She can be reached at email@example.com