Navigating the big decisions together

Coauthored by Jason Vallozzi, Founder, Campus to Career Crossroads & Ben Welbourn, Co-founder and COO, Verto Education. Photo credit – Verto Education students experiencing Fiji

In a few short months, COVID-19 has radically altered college admissions.  Stay tuned as more changes are ahead.  As we all watch the news to stay informed of these potential changes, we frequently hear about recent high school graduates considering a gap year in the fall.  A gap year versus a student deferring their admission are two entirely different terms. These terms cannot be used interchangeably.

To help explain what a gap year is truly about, I wanted to bring in a gap year expert and professional colleague, Ben Welbourn. Ben is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Verto Education. His company provides unparalleled international gap year experiences while simultaneously fulfilling freshman year college requirements. Verto Education has selectively and strategically built its consortium to progressively partner with over forty-five highly respected colleges so students can be on pace to graduate in four years. I asked Ben what his company is experiencing since there is so much discussion about the term “gap year” in college admissions right now: His response follows.

“This is probably the strangest college admissions cycle ever recorded. Colleges are responding to coronavirus in a variety of ways. Some have come out and said that classes will be online this fall. Some aren’t sure yet. Some have very publicly committed to classes being in person this fall (at least in some form, for some students) in order to protect their enrollment. Regardless, students aren’t sure they will have the freshman year they were expecting, or the one they deserve. For that reason, college admissions offices are hearing three words far more often than they have in the past: ‘defer’ and ‘gap year.’

Given the gravity of the college decision, it’s important to clarify students’ options. College deferment is the act of telling your college that you are postponing your matriculation, and that you plan to arrive on campus a semester or year later. That’s it. Deferment says nothing about what you plan to do during this time away, or why you’re taking this time. A gap year, on the other hand, is an intentional period of experiential learning, taken in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness. For college-bound students, it is meant to solidify why they are going to college, and what they want to get out of their time in higher education. Gap year students regularly report higher graduation rates, higher GPAs, and greater participation on campus than their peers. They also self-report a greater sense of purpose, confidence, and career readiness. This isn’t automatic though. As my mother, a retired high school counselor, told my 18-year-old self before my gap year, a gap year is not sitting at her kitchen table filling out college applications. Successful gap year students need a plan, and they need to get out of their parents’ living rooms.

Not all parents are as encouraging of this idea though, and that’s just one of many obstacles to students taking a gap year – even in a pandemic. There’s a longstanding (sometimes misinformed) idea that gap years cost money – in addition to the increasingly ridiculous cost of college. Many gap year students spend at least a portion of their year earning income through jobs and internships, but we do hear this concern. For many families, the idea of postponing college after the family has spent years working to get their students off to college, is completely unreasonable and sometimes insensitive. Some families are also concerned about safety, and others are worried that, “if you take a gap year, you’ll never go back to school.” Enough roadblocks existed that we felt we had to start Verto Education. Verto is a “gap year” without the gap. We run semester-long programs abroad that provide 16 general education credits, with direct transfer to 45+ partner colleges and universities. Many of our students would benefit from a gap year, but want to stay on a 4-year plan, save money, and graduate with their peers. As with many gap years, a Verto semester or year saves many students from four years of the wrong major, and quite possibly 20 years of the wrong career. It’s a chance to try a bunch of possible college majors out in the real world before you arrive on campus.

As graduating seniors consider their options for the fall, I recommend speaking with an expert (Jason Vallozzi, for one!) about the possible scenarios that could play out in September. Don’t just defer because you don’t like what’s happening in the world. This coming year can still have a positive impact on your college career, even if that comes with some serendipity. Come up with a plan in case your college can’t offer the education you’re seeking, and approach this decision with the same level of curiosity you’ve had throughout the college process.”

Thank you, Ben, for the clarity and benefits regarding a gap year.  Many students can greatly benefit from a gap year as it can help them determine their career interests and be an enhancement to their college learning.

I agree with Ben that graduating high school seniors need a defined plan in order to meet the various scenarios appearing in the months ahead, especially if they decide to defer.  I have seen too many students in my post-secondary admissions experiences defer their education without a solid plan such as a gap year, college in the spring semester, volunteering, etc.  Without a plan, it may take years for students to return to the college classroom, if ever. When some students do return, it is with the handicap of additional life responsibilities besides their semester schedule, making the learning process more difficult.

About the guest coauthor Ben Welbourn, Co-founder and COO, Verto Education:

Ben is the COO/ Co-founder of Verto Education and an alum of a self-designed gap year, during which he hiked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, worked in a variety of industries, taught English in rural Peru, and led outdoor education programs in New Hampshire and Maine.

Ben went on to earn his degree in international relations from the College of Wooster in Ohio. Before joining the field of experiential education, he taught at a primarily Dominican-American school outside of Boston. Ben has since overseen international program development, student outreach and recruitment, and business development for a number of student travel organizations including Rustic Pathways and Winterline Global Education. Ben, his wife, and dog recently relocated to Portland, Oregon, to set up Verto’s new West Coast headquarters.

For inquiries about Verto Education, please visit www.vertoeducation.org

 

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