Alternatives to College

Is a Gap Year the right choice?

The Marvelwood College Counseling office fully supports a student’s decision to take a gap year after high school to engage in meaningful and productive activity that will better prepare him or her for college.  The decision to take a gap year can not only alleviate the anxiety associated with the college application process, but also motivate a student who needs extra time to make some important decisions.   

As a general rule, we encourage a student to go through with the application process even if the plan is to take a gap year.  In the event a student is accepted to a first-choice school, the process of deferring that acceptance to the following year is usually easy, requiring only a letter (email) of intent.  In this and in all cases, open and candid communication with the admissions office is key to guaranteeing a smooth, post-gap year transition to college.

Some common factors that often lead a student to decide on a gap year:

  • Time to mature – college is a place for young adults.
  • The cost – an important factor to consider with parents or guardians.
  • Career path – choosing “undecided” when asked to declare a degree path on college applications is okay, but some students prefer to take time away from school to explore interests and choose a major.  
  • See the world while working – a popular option offered by scores of companies that specialize in sponsoring gap year programs that visit virtually every continent on the planet (see more information on this below).  

There are scores of print and online resources offering extensive guides to gap year programs.  One of the most comprehensive is The Complete Guide to the Gap Year, originally published ten years ago but still topical.  This resource lists 200 of the world’s best gap year programs and is described as “the go-to book for anyone considering a year to re-charge, to follow a passion, to become immersed in another culture, or to find their love of learning again.” The guide includes several excellent programs that have visited Marvelwood over the years, notably Rustic Pathways and Where There Be Dragons

General categories of programs listed include: 

  • Volunteer Programs (in Africa, United States, & Multiple Countries)
  • Cultural Immersion Programs (largest category)
  • Adventure Programs
  • Language Study Programs
  • Art, Music, Theater, and Media Programs
  • Sailing and Tall Ship Programs
  • Conservation, Environment, and Marine Life Programs
  • Outdoor and Wilderness Programs
  • Sport Programs

While thorough and readily available, this guide is by no means the only resource, as a quick Google search for gap year literature will confirm.  In fact, the popularity of the gap year has spawned regional fairs around the country. An up-to-date directory is on USA Gap Year Fairs.  Additionally, as a member of Round Square, our students have access to a variety of Gap Opportunities at Round School schools around the world. 

Finally, it’s important to note that, in the event a student decides not to apply to college before taking a gap year, Marvelwood’s College Counseling office will still provide the necessary supporting documents and other assistance when they are needed.  We share a common goal with every Marvelwood graduate: to matriculate at a college or university of choice and be successful there. 


Alternative Paths to Success

Attending a traditional, four-year college is not always the right path for every high school graduate.  There are legions of successful people, some quite celebrated–Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, to name a few–who either never attended college or dropped out to follow a passion or take a different journey.  Of the many alternative paths to success, these are the most commonly followed:

  • Get a job while taking online courses or attending community college at night.  Hundreds of colleges and universities around the country offer online degree programs and lists are readily available online.  And chances are, there is a nearby community college in every city and town in the country.  The schools will ask for a high school transcript and we’ll be happy to forward the document when requested. 

  • Attend a vocational or skilled trade school.  There are scores of accredited trade schools in the U.S. that teach a vast array of skills in a wide range of professions.  Here’s a sample of the many courses offered: Automotive Technology and Repair, Plumbing and Heating, Electrical, Welding, Aviation Maintenance, Marine Mechanics, Commercial Diving, Refrigeration Technologies, Professional Truck Driving.  Again, the online resources are many, including a directory of Trade Schools, Colleges and Universities

  • Start a business.  If you’ve got a great idea, unusual talent or particular skill that can generate income and has promise, why not?  The entrepreneurial spirit can be a powerful, motivating force and, as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  If it doesn’t pan out in the end, at least the attempt was made! 

The key to success when a student decides to take an alternative path after high school is to have a plan and take affirmative action to follow it.  Complacency and lack of direction will only generate roadblocks and delay that success.