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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Partnership between online K-12 education leader, worldwide internship program expands opportunities for gap year with purpose to Postgraduate Program students
WEST CHESTER, Pa., and OJAI, Calif., September 14, 2020 — Laurel Springs School, a leading pioneer in online K-12 education, today announced a partnership with Virtual Internships, a fully remote program designed to give students the opportunity for career exploration and professional development. Beginning this fall, the partnership will offer remote internships in a career field or location of choice for students enrolled in Laurel Springs’ Postgraduate Program.
Internships offered through this partnership follow career readiness competencies as outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and will be delivered online as part of Laurel Springs’ Postgraduate Program, which launched in August 2020 and encourages students to pursue an academic gap year with purpose. The Virtual Internships program includes support scaffolding such as weekly Google Hangouts, biweekly webinars, individual coaching calls, and personalized support.
“As we strive to build upon our exciting Postgraduate Program at Laurel Springs, incorporating internship opportunities is the logical next step in helping students enrich their education and prepare for their futures in college and beyond,” said Jane Ferris, Ed.D., Dean of Students at Laurel Springs. “Furthermore, partnering with a program that follows NACE guidelines ensures that our students develop critical professional skills, including leadership, professionalism, work ethic, and career management.”
Virtual Internships currently partners with 3,500 companies in more than 70 countries, giving students the opportunity to collaborate on a global scale and develop cultural competencies over the one- to four-month duration of their internships.
“These are real internships with real companies, and they provide Laurel Springs students a unique opportunity to explore, grow, and potentially land a job after college,” said Jillian Low, Chief Academic Officer of Virtual Internships.
Students who are interested in pursuing a gap year with purpose through Laurel Springs’ Postgraduate Program and Virtual Internships are encouraged to visit the school’s website or contact the Admissions team at 800-377-5890.
About Laurel Springs School
Laurel Springs School is a fully accredited private online school offering a challenging K-12 and Postgraduate academic program that engages global learners and values students as individuals. Our school is designed for the college preparatory student who wishes to grow and excel academically and personally while maintaining a flexible schedule. Laurel Springs has an outstanding record of placing its graduates into selective colleges and universities of their choice in the U.S. and throughout the world.
To learn more about Laurel Springs School, visit www.laurelsprings.com.
About Virtual Internships
Virtual Internships started in 2018 after recognizing that the future of work was at our doorstep, and more students across the world would need to prepare for remote work experience, as well as create a network of virtual connections to succeed. The founders also recognised the importance of reducing barriers to internships to widen diversity and inclusion in overall internship participation. VI’s inaugural program was able to leverage the expertise of CRCC Asia, which at the time had 10+ years of experience cultivating host company networks and best practices for supporting interns. This served as a great framework for VI as it adapted its support for a virtual programming landscape.
To learn more about Virtual Internships, visit https://www.virtualinternships.com.
Living in Hawaii, Bella Chow fills her days painting, writing, wrangling nine cats, and going to the beach, naturally. While the state of the world may not feel like living in paradise, she’s found a way to make this year—the year she graduated high school—truly count for something.
Something to Flip For
With all that has happened in the last few months, it feels as though the world has been flipped, bounced, and spun off its axis. Through it all, we’ve seen just how resilient some people can be, including those who are missing out on celebrating important milestones in person.
As a Laurel Springs Senior, Bella is one of those people. Maybe it’s her background in gymnastics that has conditioned her to spring back into action. Training with the Kokokahi Gymnastics Team for over ten years not only makes her a Level 10 gymnast, but it seems to have instilled a certain level of strength as well.
When forced to look toward the future and what it may hold for her and other college hopefuls, Bella has had to make some tough decisions. “Like a large number of my classmates graduating in 2020, I have decided to take a gap year… I realized that in the long run it would be more advantageous—particularly if colleges have no choice but to make their fall semester online.”
Online and Beyond
Bella is no stranger to online learning. She’s been a Laurel Springs student since the second half of her sophomore year. “The brick and mortar school I had been attending just wasn’t the right fit, particularly with my busy schedule. Once I made the change to online schooling, a lot more opportunities opened up and I’ve been a lot happier!”
While she admits it took a little while to find her motivation and learn to be accountable, it soon became second nature. “I really appreciate the time management skills I have acquired from being at Laurel Springs… I know that I will benefit greatly from it at college and in the future.”
As Bella built her own schedule around training at the gym—and relaxing at the beach—she relished in the course selection process. “I immediately zeroed in on the electives, and it was so much fun to get started with the forensic science course!”
Aside from the flexible schedule and class variety, it’s the supportive staff that helped Bella get to this point. “I’ve really enjoyed working with my teachers and counselor, and although there is no in-person interaction, they’re great at communicating and have always provided everything I need.”
What does she need now? A year to gear up and give back. In addition to continuing gymnastics training, Bella has also applied for a variety of volunteer opportunities, including a position at the Waikiki Aquarium where she hopes to educate the younger visitors.
When Today Determines Tomorrow
Even though she’s taking a year off, Bella still has plans for college. “I see myself at university pursuing a degree in chemistry with the intent of becoming a virologist.” After this year, there are sure to be plenty of programs to choose from no matter where she ends up—from coast to coast and around the world.