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Stiff Competition, Long Waitlists: How the Gap Year Can Remedy College Admissions Concerns

By Alyssa Polakowski, M.Ed., College and Alumni Relations Manager at Laurel Springs School

In 2021, the college admissions landscape has become a difficult one to navigate: with competition at an all-time high and longer waitlists than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unstable terrain for graduating and rising high school seniors aiming for acceptance into their dream institutions.

So, what should students do if they find themselves on an astronomically long waitlist or facing rejection from their school of choice? While these students can adapt their plans to ensure a college start-date this fall, there’s also a well-known, albeit misunderstood, solution that may still allow them to attend their first-choice: the gap year. 

college admissions

While there are no guarantees of acceptance into highly selective colleges and universities, students can strive to make themselves more competitive applicants and re-apply to the institutions of their choice. As the true impact of the test-optional admissions process is examined as a result of the pandemic, students who fear that they will be rejected, or who have already been rejected or wait-listed, will need to get creative. Here are a few important ways for students to reimagine the benefits of a gap year:

Strengthen Your Academic Transcript

In high school, students have a limited amount of slots in their course schedules and a list of graduation requirements to meet. During a gap year—the true duration of which is dependent on a student’s individual goals—there is an opportunity to take more advanced courses, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors, as well as courses of interest in areas such as Electives and World Languages. Students may not have had time for, nor previous access to, these courses in their high schools.  

Victoria Gillette, 17, of Trinidad and Tobago, is an athlete and student in the Postgraduate Program at Laurel Springs School. Gillette is primarily using her enrollment in the program to help her prepare for college and increase her chances of being accepted to a highly ranked, selective university. 

“As of right now, my main academic goal is to be accepted to the University of Southern California, where I can continue to play Water Polo,” says Gillette. “Currently, I am taking six AP classes in order to remain competitive in my college applications.”

gap year student

Victoria Gillette, 17, is taking a gap year with purpose at Laurel Springs School.

Gain Real-World Work Experience

With the flexibility of a gap year program conducted through an online, asynchronous school, students have the option to pursue professional internships and hone their entrepreneurial skills. These experiences introduce students to the professional world early, giving them not only a more focused approach to their academic pursuits in college, but also preparation for life as a working adult. 

For example, organizations like Virtual Internships, an education technology company connected to more than 3,500 companies in 70 countries, and Entrepreneurial Performance Labs, an organization dedicated to developing successful future executives and entrepreneurs, provide students in Laurel Springs’ Postgraduate Program with hands-on work experience, coaching, specialized training, and personalized support as they develop greater cultural competencies and prepare for an increasingly entrepreneurial workforce. 

Explore Majors Before You Set Foot on Campus

For many students entering higher education, visualizations of their future careers are fuzzy. Our college years are often viewed as a time meant for personal exploration and growth, but frequently changing majors or earning a degree that a student is not passionate about is unlikely to yield the best possible outcome. 

By pursuing a gap year that is individually tailored to a student’s interests and goals, they can also delve into different subject areas, typically in the form of semester-long Elective courses in Laurel Springs’ program. By taking these classes, students are introduced to new areas of interest and are given an opportunity to ignite a passion that may carry them through their collegiate major and into the professional workforce.

In addition to making herself a more competitive college applicant, Gillette is using her gap year as an opportunity to explore career paths.

“I’ve always loved the idea of pursuing a career in Actuarial Science, but I am not limiting myself to that one option,” said Gillette. “In addition to the six AP courses I am enrolled in, I am also taking fun electives, such as Criminology and Marketing, and plan to continue unlocking new interests and passions that way. I think it’s important to keep an open mind about your future, as things change every day.”

gap year student

Gillette, 17, is using her gap year to explore career paths.

In the increasingly competitive environment of college admissions and resulting waitlists, a strong applicant can’t only demonstrate high grade-point averages and test scores. These applicants will also boast a diverse portfolio of academic, personal, and professional pursuits. Ideally, students who want to be more competitive can further refine, align, and supplement those goals and pursuits by taking a focused gap year. 

Once thought to be a time for care-free travel or a symbol of apathy and indecision, the gap year can actually be used to make students more desirable applicants at top schools. Even more, it provides them an opportunity to learn more about who they are and discover what passions might drive them in higher education and beyond.

To learn more about the Postgraduate Program at Laurel Springs School, please request more information or contact Admissions at (800) 377-5890.


​Alyssa Polakowski, M.Ed., has ​more than 10 years of experience in the field of counseling and serving students with an emphasis on college and career planning. She is currently the ​College and Alumni Relations Manager at Laurel Springs School, the first distance learning accredited school, which for 30 years has offered personalized educational options to students in grades K-12.