Deferring the School
December 17, 2006 2:40 PM   Subscribe

I am closing in on my high school graduation and I'm at a loss for the next step. I think I want to take a year off. There's

I'll be graduating in June from a notable northeastern prep school. I have applied to colleges, but for some reason, I'm just not excited about it. I plan on deferring for a year to travel, study, and just live life. I wanted to ask the collective brain trust what good programs you have heard of or have participated in that would be open to a 19 year old with only a high school degree. I'd prefer if it was focused outside of the USA.
posted by daviss to Education (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of my co-workers spent several months volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in, umm, Nigeria I think, a few years ago. How does that grab you?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:06 PM on December 17, 2006

FWIW, I've always heard once you take a yr off of school you never go back. But, as an answer, Peace Corp?
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:08 PM on December 17, 2006

It costs money, but the AFS program accepts high school graduates. My brother spent a year in Costa Rica (college-level), two friends spent a fifth year in high school--one in Germany, one in Denmark. All through AFS.

I highly reccommend that you pursue this. I ended up taking my year off between my junior and senior years of college. I would have enjoyed the first three years of college so much more if I had taken a year off of the career-building educational system before college. It's nice to go in a little more mature than you are right now.

Not sure if anyone hires males au pairs, but that always sounded cool too.

Good luck!
posted by tk at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2006

I took a year off between high school and college and lived in Venezuela for a year as an exchange student. I just deferred my acceptance to college for a year, that was not a big deal at all, and I came back fluent in Spanish and much better off for having taken the time.

I went with YFU and so wound up attending high school, even though I'd already graduated in the US. What that meant was that I was able to party a lot without academic consequences, not a bad thing for an 18 year old. It also meant that I got to really get to experience life firsthand in a developing country- having lived in Venezuela gives me a different perspective on current events there, and I made friendships that I still maintain, twenty years on.

If you're certain you'll go to college when you come back, there's really no downside to taking year now- no one will ever ask you to justify taking that time, and you won't miss out on anything.
posted by ambrosia at 3:15 PM on December 17, 2006

I think if you pick the right thing and take the year off it's ok... just don't get a full time job and before you know it, a girlfriend who's knocked up...
posted by thilmony at 3:32 PM on December 17, 2006

I travelled on Up With People for half a year - it takes you to US, Europe, and Thailand (the locations do change; when I travelled we went to Japan instead of Thailand).

You basically travel with a group of people from all around the world, working on community projects and performing (but you don't have to be any good at performing!). It costs money, but compared to Semester at Sea or the ilk it's cheaper, and there are scholarships.

My boyfriend went for a yearlong exchange to Denmark via Rotary.

CwgrlUp: I took all sorts of time off and now I'm back :)
posted by divabat at 4:01 PM on December 17, 2006

I took a year off between high school and college and spent that year working in a warehouse. It's one of the best decisions I ever made.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:09 PM on December 17, 2006

My girlfriend took a year off between finishing at a notable northeastern prep school and starting college at a notable college. She traveled with her family, worked a couple of part-time jobs to save spending money for college, and took several classes she was interested in at a local community college. She tells me she wishes she'd done more with it, but she enjoyed the opportunity to relax between exceptionally rigorous academic schedules.
posted by Alterscape at 4:17 PM on December 17, 2006

Took a year off. Worked. Travelled. Volunteered. By the time the year was done, I was more confident, seasoned and ready to go back to school. I strongly feel that had I not experienced that year off I would have folded like a pack of cards my first year in college. You've been in school since you were 4 or 5, take a break! Also, bonus that I saved enough in that year to pay for the bulk of my education, letting me graduate college relatively debt-free.
posted by typewriter at 4:31 PM on December 17, 2006

During my first semester of college, I decided I wasn't quite ready to spend another four years in college right away. There was something about being in school for practically your entire life (with a few months off in the summer) that made me feel like I wanted to just take a vacation from it.

So I did. I got a leave of absence from my school (this allowed me to re-matriculate within 1 year) and listened while nearly everyone told me that people like me never go back to school. Two close friends at school pretty much said, "Hey, nice knowing you..." They were pretty sure they'd never see me on campus again.

So I went back to live at my mother's house and spent a lot of the next 6 months working full time at a grocery store. It wasn't much fun, but it was great to get away from school. When the fall semester rolled around, I decided it was time to go back to school - tanned, rested and ready.

Long story short - it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I graduated college in a little over 4 years and ended up working a bunch of jobs that I've genuinely enjoyed since then. If you need time off, my advice is to take it, but to conscientiously use that time to think about what you want to do with the rest of your time. You have time, but don't waste it.

epilogue: the two friends who told me I was making a mistake ending up leaving school themselves and never going back. go figure.
posted by dhammond at 4:39 PM on December 17, 2006

I didn't take a year off of school between high school and college, but I should have. I went to a four-year school that I really didn't want to go to, wasted a good $15,000, and failed a lot of classes. Then I took a semester off and went back to college after I figured out what I wanted to do. Best decision I ever made. Ended up completely switching majors, and actually doing what I really wanted when I did go back.

It depends on the person whether or not it's the right decision, but if you know you'll go back, you'll go back.

If you're in doubt, as dhammond said above, most schools can offer a leave of abscence. You could always go a semester, see how things go, then if it really sucks the life out of you, take some time off.
posted by Verdandi at 5:00 PM on December 17, 2006

At 19, I spent about a year in Paris as an au pair to a French/British family. The family and I located each other through great au pair. If you don't mind working with kids, I definitely recommend that option.
posted by logic vs love at 5:06 PM on December 17, 2006

Forget the overseas crap that's popular among the bohemians and trust-a-farians looking for people that are suitably ethnic to make themselves feel good about being bohemians and trust-a-farians.

Go join the Coast Guard. Go rescue people for a living.
posted by frogan at 5:17 PM on December 17, 2006

I plan on deferring for a year to travel, study, and just live life

Get a job, or else you're just wasting your time. Prep school isn't something you need a full year to cool off after. At some point you'll have to learn have to live life while also being gainfully employed.

posted by Hildago at 5:49 PM on December 17, 2006

Get a job, or else you're just wasting your time.

Waste your time, or else you'll just be getting a job. Seriously. You've got your whole life to work, be responsible, and otherwise Act Like A Grownup. Take a year off, do something fun with it, and the real world will be waiting when you're ready for it. You won't regret it.
posted by pdb at 7:46 PM on December 17, 2006

I was one of those people that listened to "you'll never come back to college" crowd. I ended up struggling through college because I didn't really want to be there. It also took much longer because I got kicked out the first time around. It's been 3 years since I graduated with shitty marks and I finally feel like I want to go back to school. But I can't, because my marks are shitty. By not taking that year off I basically sabotaged myself.

Do what you feel is right. Your whole life is ahead of you. Don't do what's "right", don't do what your parents tell you. Their time is over it's all on you now. If you're sufficiently motivated and self-reliant get a job for the first 6 months and spend the other 6 months (and the money that you earned) travelling through Europe (expsneive-ish) or Asia (really cheap). I wish someone told me about this when I finished highscooll
posted by aeighty at 8:00 PM on December 17, 2006

Hey, I'm pretty much in the same boat.

I recently read this article (or one like it), which states that "Time Off to Work or Travel Helps Maturity". I had found this after I decided to kind of take a year off, and it's nice to know that colleges might actually like that.
posted by niles at 10:09 PM on December 17, 2006

I went to college at 17 to a course that wasn’t my first choice, about which I didn’t know an immense amount. I finished in four years, enjoyed myself immensely, learned lots, made the best friends of my life. And I’m now working in a foreign country, living life, and let me say that getting a job you don’t hate for decent pay is a whole lot easier with a degree :-) .
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:09 AM on December 18, 2006

Take the time off. I wish I had. So many people burn out in their first year of college because they have no idea what they want out of life. You'll gain perspective, confidence and maturity (unless you spend the year drunkenly sleeping around in European hostels. But if you do you might no be any worse off than your peers who do the same in college-town dormitories.) The people who say "you'll never go back" don't know you. If you think you might not go back, maybe you shouldn't go in the first place. All the more reason to take a year to figure it out.
posted by jaysus chris at 7:06 AM on December 18, 2006

My sister was in a similar situation, and I suggested that she take a year off between high school and college—I wished that I had done it. She ended up at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute in Florence. She studied art and art history plus Italian, so she was actually taking classes, but it wasn’t for credit (that was the agreement with the college she deferred from). I think it was a terrific experience for her--she really came into her own, as a student and as a traveler. The school set her up in an amazing apartment with a bunch of other American roommates, most of whom were college students studying abroad, but they were all very proactive about meeting Italians. Bonus, of course, was learning a new language and developing a passion for Italy (she spent her junior year of undergrad studying in Rome).

So, it’s not true that you won’t go back to school. You just have to stay motivated.
posted by CiaoMela at 8:02 AM on December 18, 2006

You don't say whether it's got to be a free (or lowcost) option, so I'll tell you what I did. I went to Israel for a year with like-minded (and some not like minded, but in a good way) folks. It was on Young Judaea's Year Course in Israel. It is a program that's a mix of volunteering, study, and travel. I wound up with some college credits, some great fucking memories of living and working in the holy land, and a girlfriend who's now my wife. All things considered, pretty good.

If you don't feel like going straight to college, then don't. Every college will defer you without any problem (a simple letter will suffice), and the experiences you'll have on a year off far outweigh any potential downsides.
posted by zpousman at 8:18 AM on December 18, 2006

First of all, congratulations on making what I think is the excellent decision to take time away from school. Stepping away from school and spending some time in the "real world" was the best decision I ever made.

I did AmeriCorps and loved it. If you're interested in volunteering, I highly recommend it. They have a program called City Year that's targeted primarily at high school graduates.

Also, if your parents are willing to pay, google "gap year" for a list of a zillion organizations that will help you plan how to spend your time away from school.
posted by chickletworks at 9:05 AM on December 18, 2006

Alternatives to the Peace Corps Year of Service information

Once you do start college, you'll be surprised how many people do take a semester or a year off before starting school. Just be certain that whatever you do for that year is something meaningful and interesting to you; don't just get-a-job - as others have said, that's for after college. Also, don't cobble together a few month-long "experiences". Commit to something for the majority of the time you've given yourself.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:08 AM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

There are many, many good suggestions here already. One more idea: Take a look at SCA (no, not that SCA). If you like the outdoors and have time to volunteer, it can be a very good experience – though sometimes also a hard one (both the work and the living away from home for possibly the first time, though if you've been attending a boarding school that may not be an issue for you). Not outside the US, but living in the woods can still be a very different experience from what you're used to.
posted by RogerB at 7:48 PM on December 18, 2006

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