The job of a good Educational Counselor is multifaceted - paying attention to the student, the parent, and all the while keeping an eye on reality to know what's just a fantasy and what's within reach. Of course every parent wants their child to go to an ivy league university for the obvious reason that it sets them up for the best of possible futures. And while these are some of the many wants that are put upon your students, Educational Counselors truly serve as the gate keepers for students in that much of what you present to them has the possibility to bear some unique fruits. The selection of universities that you offer are designed to suit the students' strengths and areas they wish to grow, but in many ways, the most important question - that of self-knowledge - is one that is a necessary antecedent to every question that arises in the future.
While Gap Years are certainly not right for everyone, perhaps the best invitation that could be given is to offer a Gap Year as a possibility to your students and parents. Here's what previous Educational Counselors have suggested:
TO THE STUDENTS:
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 general however, the best recommendation when working with students, is to listen to the students first: in short, the most important aspect of the decision to take a Gap Year is the students' own awareness and ownership of that decision. The student needs to want to do this - and the more pushing family, friends, or peers make towards a Gap Year can only confuse the students' own interests. Whereas students generally are quite aware that college graduation is in their best interest, most have never considered a Gap Year, and as such, offering just a few options is typically the best way to discuss the option. If they're interested (and you'll see it in their faces) then follow up with the option. If they seem afraid, then talk through their fears as those same fears will likely present in smaller quantities but just as real in college. If they seem excited, then it's time to start the conversations with parents.
TO THE PARENTS:
Be prepared to be met with doubt and skepticism. But hold firm on the data and the benefits. Typically parents are most afraid of the potential to never return to college - citing the often-used data that concurs. However, taking part in a structured Gap Year takes those statistics and demonstrates quite the opposite - again, 90% of students who complete a structured Gap Year are enrolled in a four-year institution within 1 year.
Two of the biggest questions received by Educational Counselors about Gap Years are:
Financial concerns are a big issue for every college family. There's unfortunately a constant increase in tuition, room and board, … and many textbooks are expensive to the point of being laughable at this point. As for Gap Years, there's a lot of data that shows students are more likely to complete their degree sooner if they've completed a structured Gap Year. … and there's likewise data that shows only 56% of students complete their four-year degree within SIX years. To pair those two statistics together, while superficially convent, doesn't attest the full picture as most students who would otherwise attend a Gap Year typically are the type to complete their degree in a fairly responsible manner. However, perhaps the most significant response to this question is to not waste the cost of a college year - at an average $39,800/year [http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cst.asp] - as most of their peers will do during the freshman and sophomore years. Having matured, and explored, and found new reserves, a student who has completed their Gap Year will present as much more invested in their college careers, the grades, and in general having the curiosity to drive their own education even beyond that of their peers. Gap Years can be done cheaply, or expensively, … there's great variety in the marketplace. Even some Gap Years will offer college credit as are frequently referred to as being a "Bridge Year."
Traditional Junior year study abroads, while very worthwhile (in fact, close to 70% of students who have completed a Gap Year choose to likewise do a study abroad), are a different endeavor entirely. Developmentally, having these types of experience before entering college increases the likelihood of a student faring better in grades and extracurricular participation as opposed to waiting two years. Whereas a Gap Year is designed to expose students to a different type of pedagogy, in most cases, a "study abroad" is simply enrolling in a partner university overseas. While there certainly are benefits to living in a host family, likely studying a language, and getting an exposure to a foreign culture, a Gap Year is additionally focused on exploring potential careers, and developing self-awareness and confidence with the support of a more structured and guided environment.
As well, parents will cite concerns about safety, and missed opportunities to graduate with peers, etc. These are all legitimate concerns, and you can always refer people to the American Gap Association website to help debunk and offer guidance through these concerns. Issues specific to safety of course depend on the location and activities the student plans to take part in - but in most cases, some thorough research, or the "AGA Seal of Accreditation" can be that safeguard to make sure the students' safety is well considered.
At the end of the day, however, the truth is that time spent to focus on yourself, and "try before you buy" a career, profession, or at the least a major, is time well spent. One of the common stories is of a student clearly interested in marine biology, having selected a university to go to that has a strong department, and a good name. Within two years, however, that student will begin to somewhat understand what the career field is about, and hopefully, by the time they graduate they've done an internship. Because, in reality, the career of a marine biologist involves a lot of paperwork, proposals, data analysis, and a lot of 'touching really slimy things' that most students won't have the opportunity to experience before they end up committed to the work through school debt or used time.