Gap Year students are unique bunch who no doubt have a slew of magnificent experiences that have shaped them in a variety of ways. Some may have taken part in a highly structured program that was stationary albeit focused on a particular career trajectory … others may have crafted their own Gap Year that although structured, was loosely so. While it's important for the students to understand where they stand with the universities they hope to attend, it's likewise important for their admissions counselors to seek an understanding for what you need. Communication is most certainly a necessity here, and so it's AGA's position that the best circumstances for a Gap Year student and their future university is to take a beginning, middle, and end approach.
Students are often initially concerned with what their parents think - read below. Next, students get concerned about missing out on sharing their college experience with their peers. Quite often students will also be concerned about pushing their comfort zones; having had the previous 18 years to prepare for college, now the prospect of doing something different is its own hurdle. In fact, it's hard to ignore the possible correlation that perhaps why the data is so in the favor of Gap Year students is because they are self-selecting to go off the beaten path and explore more.
In the past, universities have granted a deferral contingent on some or all of the following:
Each of these carry their own pros and cons, and this list is by no means exhaustive. However, what it represents to the student and their family is that you, as the university representative, see and acknowledge that these proposed Gap Year experiences will enrich the student and college community and you're interested in having that at your campus. While the vast majority of universities do not yet have a formal policy in place for how to work with Gap Year students, nor an internal system to account for these students, the American Gap Association is happy to offer suggestions for better tracking and in order to hold deferral applicants accountable.
The middle is perhaps the most simple of things. Typically, the best suggestion is to continue the dialogue - either request to be added to their facebook so that you can "live vicariously" through their experiences, or ask simply to be added to a weekly blog. Doing this accomplishes three things: it shows your commitment to the student, it allows you to monitor them and in essence buys you an extended period to evaluate whether you think - based on these further communications - you still think they're a good fit for your university, and, it allows you to get a feel for any changing tides in case a student may have shifted their focus to another major or another direction other than your university. In this way, it's better to know about these situations earlier rather than later.
The end is really the beginning in this context as it represents the closure of their Gap Year and the beginning of their college career. Here the challenge is mostly on integrating and getting the most out of the student. Gap Year students routinely outperform their peers in academics and extracurricular engagement [Bob Clagett, Former Dean of Admissions for Harvard and Middlebury Universities, New York Times, "The Choice," December 27, 2011], as such the question is what direction can you offer to spread their impact out to the communities most in need on campus. Sometimes this is a languishing club that you can help facilitate them towards, or other times a student government, but all cases it's an opportunity to let students in need benefit from a student with a breadth of experiences and self-awareness.