College Planning

Lessons From A Gap Year

How did you learn to iron a shirt?

I remember precisely where and when I learned. It was September 1989 in Gandia, Spain, in a lovely home two blocks from the beach. My Spanish host mother, Josefina, raised her eyebrows when she saw me in my unironed jeans. She let that one pass, but pulled me aside for a lesson when I appeared in a lightly wrinkled cotton blouse. I have used the technique she taught me that day each time I’ve sidled up to the ironing board for the past twenty-five years.

How to press my clothes was just one of innumerable lessons I learned when I left my rural Pennsylvania home to spend ten months in Spain as a Rotary International Youth Exchange student.

Living with a spirited host family readied me for the challenges of roommates and dormitory life: I was forced to learn how to share living space with strangers, to adjust to their routines and to conform to the constraints of their household (showering twice a week was plenty, according to my host parents).

Experiencing a complete language immersion honed my listening skills and forced me to pay attention to social cues. The mental strain of thinking and communicating in Spanish all day created an ideal environment for self-reflection: when I was tired of reaching out, I often turned inward to consider and question: “What am I doing here? What is happening in this situation? How is this different from what I know?”

I learned to make my modest stipend last.  Getting myself to and from school in the city using public transportation, managing my class schedule and keeping up with homework  (and asking for academic help when I needed it) forced me to think ahead, plan my time, budget my money and maintain a healthy level of awareness of my situation.

Drinking socially (and legally) with friends helped me see the line that exists between ‘pleasant’ and ‘excessive.’ It was considered unseemly by my Spanish peers to make a fool of oneself by drinking too much alcohol. I discovered that young adults could have really strong opinions about politics and the state. It was hard to go unnoticed as an exchange student:  people paid attention to what I did, and what I said, so I had to think carefully about both.

Operating in a climate of uncertainty and newness forced me to stretch myself in ways that I hadn’t in high school. Now I’m a parent of two girls and a multi-lingual professional with a master’s degree in international relations, a background in higher education administration, and an enduring belief in the promise of peace through international understanding. For me, the Gap Year was excellent preparation for life in college and beyond in ways I could never have anticipated.

Helping your child with the college process

Resolutions Worth KeepingHelping your own child with their college process can be a rewarding, bonding experience - but boundaries have to be drawn. Here's where I have resolved to draw the lines and I embark upon this process with my own daughter.

Is providing a low-cost, no-frills education the way to go?

The Olive Garden Theory of Higher Education If ever-increasing tuitions is putting the cost of higher education beyond the reach of the masses, perhaps paring down to the essentials as a way to make college accessible to the masses is an approach worth considering.

Williams is the best... or is it???

America's Best Colleges According to a new report by Forbes, Williams is the college that best meets students needs. Having just visited Williams last month, I can tell you that the campus is stunning, the facilities are state-of-the-art, the faculty are very impressive, and their Tutorials Program, based loosely on the tutorial style teaching at Oxford and Cambridge, make this a top-notch place to live and learn. It seems like a no-brainer to encouage students to apply here. And therein lies the rub of these one-size-fits-all rankings. While Forbes evaluated colleges based on ten factors including the students' rankings of their academic experiences, the amount of debt they incurred, their opportunities to distinguish themselves academically, and their ultimate career success, no one ranking can decide for an individual what school should be on the top of their list.

For example, for student looking for a lively weekend scene, the opportunities to be involved in Greek life, or the excitement of cheering on a Division 1 Football team, Williams would fall towards the bottom of the list. And there are other, much more subtle, distinctions between schools that prospective students should make. What type of students thrive here? What is the social/political climate? What does the school value? There are all questions that should be asked of any college, but are factors that will never be included on college ranking lists because there is no way to objectify this data.

So, congratulations to Williams College for ranking Number 1 on Forbes' Best Colleges in America List - you certainly are an outstanding liberal arts college in rural Massachusetts with a very strong math and science program. But, if for those looking for something different in their college experience, don't let Forbes create your college list for you.

Medical school for poets

Getting in to med school without hard sciences Mount Sinai medical school accepts a small percentage of applicants who have not taken organic chemistry, physics, or the dreaded MCATS each year, finding that those who majored in the humanities as undergrads actually make more sensitive doctors. It's too soon to know if more medical schools will head in this direction, but given the wide range of skills and expertise demanded of doctors, it's nice to know that they're not all following the same path.

Colleges consider the value of gender-neutral housing

New Policies Accomodate Transgender Students Colleges are working to figure out how to best accomodate their transgendered students. While there seem to be no easy solutions, some colleges are instituting gender-neutral dormitories.

Is the High Cost of Private College Worth the Return on Investment?

A new set of rankings for colleges has just been have released. Payscale has compared the return on investment (ROI) for over 800 colleges and has posted the study on their website Average-cost-for-college-ROI. . With the high cost attending private colleges families are clearly questioning whether it's worth the investment. We are certianly hearing that more and more in our offices and understand as well as appreciate the appropriateness of the question. While useful as one of the factors in the college planning and selection process, this should not overshadow the importance of the best fit for the student. Being happy, successful and prepared to enter the world of work after college are relative to the individual. Just because a college has a great ROI, it doesn't mean it will for that one person. So while this is one indicator of success, it is just that one indicator. Other factors include student culture, professor access, class size, cocurricular opportunities, internships, and location to name a few.

Advice for the college bound athlete

7 Things You Need to Know About Sports Scholarships While being an athlete is certainly an asset to any college application, don't play sports just for the scholarship money, which is likely to be less than you expect. Play for the love of the game.

The Personal Touch

A Campus Embraces Old School Admissions The admissions office at Hobart and William Smith Colleges is putting their efforts into making personal connections with prospective applicants. Their results - a higher yield. From our perspective - a better experience for the applicant.

A different perspective on the college search

A New Journey with my Daughter This summer I will begin the college search process with a student whom I am certain is going to be my all-time favorite client - my own daughter.

I have worked with many different types of students of widely varying abilities, talents and interests. I have enjoyed learning about them as discovering the right college match has lead them to learn new things about themselves.

Although I have known my daughter for much longer and much more intimately than any of my clients, I am eagerly looking forward to that same process of self-discovery with her.

Now you can bring Fido to college with you

Colleges Extend the Welcome Mat to Students' PetsAn increasing number of colleges are allowing students to bring their pets with them to school. After agreeing to some very strict rules, students can keep their cats, birds, dogs, and, in some cases, non-venemous snakes in their dorm rooms. Those colleges with designated dorms allowing pets believe that students who opt to bring their pet to school show greater responsibility and organization. Others worry that having a pet might keep those pet owners more isolated.

How to increase your chances of acceptance

The Dynamics of Demonstrated Interest As colleges are working to increase their yield, at many colleges, particulary the most selective ones, admissions officers are looking carefully at a student's demonstated interest in their school as a way of gauging how likely they are to yield.

Why students should continue with foreign language study

The Real Reasons to Support Language Study Occaisionally a student will tell us that they are finished studying foreign language. While they might have compelling reasons for this decision, there are good reasons why it is valuable for students to continue with the same foreign language throughout their high school years. Not only is this what colleges generally like to see, but there is evidence that foreign language study builds many other skills, besides communication.

Summer: Time for new experiences

by Allison Matlack/DAILY NEWS CORRESPONDENT Summer opportunities abound for high school students and this can be the perfect time to take classes, explore career interests, hone athletic skills or become involved in volunteer work.

As with all extracurricular activities, how a student chooses to spend their vacation time reveals a great deal about their passions, talents and leadership skills. Students should carefully choose what it is that they want to do with an eye not toward "resume building" but to finding fulfilling experiences that will nurture their passions and allow them to pursue their interests.

For those academics who would like to move ahead in their coursework or to take a class that isn't offered at their high school, many independent schools and colleges offer summer sessions. Through these programs, students can take classes in subjects ranging from calculus to archeology to glass blowing. Independent schools, vocational schools and colleges offer courses for high school students ranging from single course options to full residential programs.

For those students who are more career-focused, the 10 weeks of summer provide a unique opportunity to explore interests through internships. Besides lending credibility to a resume, a summer internship is the best way to learn more about a specific career.

For those with a more entrepreneurial spirit, the summer months allow time to run a small business mowing grass, selling handmade T-shirts or running a dog-walking business. The organizational, leadership and executive skills that are required to run a successful business are especially alluring to colleges as well as to future employers.

Volunteering is another way to explore career interests and develop skills while helping others. For students who want to combine work with travel there are several groups that organize volunteer opportunities overseas. Rather than giving an hour or so of time each week over the course of the year, a focused volunteer effort in the summer can lead to a more meaningful and rewarding experience.

Many students enroll in programs overseas where they do any combination of study, travel, language immersion and/or volunteer work. For many, this is their first time traveling without their family and the rewards of overcoming the challenges of learning how to adapt to and appreciate the traditions and routines of another culture are profound.

For the athlete, sports camps are offered at many independent schools and universities and provide a tremendous opportunity not only to train with some of the best coaches in the country but also to take advantage of state-of-the-art athletic facilities. If you plan to be a college athlete, attend camps where the coaches from the colleges you are interested in applying to will be in attendance.

While summer provides myriad opportunities to explore one's interests and passions, it is important to plan ahead as many of these camps and programs will enroll quickly.

And be sure to leave plenty of time for recreation and renewal!

To learn more about this topic, AHP Educational Consulting is offering a free seminar - "Summer Opportunities for High School Students" - on Wednesday, June 9, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at their offices at 490B Boston Post Road, Sudbury. To reserve a spot, call 978-261-1443.

Tim Lee and Allison Matlack are educational consultants at AHP Educational Consulting on Rte. 20 in Sudbury. For over 30 years, AHP has guided students through the college search and application process. For more information, call 978-443-0055 or visit

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