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As a senior, you are about to begin the most important year of your high school experience. It will be filled with excitement, anticipation, and most importantly, decisions about your future. Will you attend college immediately after high school? If so, how will you choose the right college that best fits your personal and academic needs? Or will you opt for a gap year or study abroad program instead? 

Even though these questions may seem unanswerable today, remember that by the time you graduate, you will have spent the last four years preparing for your future. Here are just a few words of advice from someone who has guided her own children through the college process, as well as countless other parents and students, too.

And yes, taking a gap year is something I see more and more often now. I advise that as you navigate your way to college, think about what you really want and can see yourself doing. Not anyone else, but you. The entire college admissions process just might lead you abroad first before you head to college.

Applying to college

For many students and parents, college is the expected next step after graduation. But before you head down that path, ask yourself a few more questions: Do you feel ready for college? Can you see yourself in a classroom for the next four years? Do you know what you might want to do? For some students, the rigorous academics of senior year leave them burned out — tired of homework, studying, and tests. If the thought of returning to the traditional classroom makes you cringe, college might not be in the cards for you right away. As you go thorugh the application process, keep looking ahead along the way and keep asking yourself which path is best for you.

College visits

College visits are crucial when creating a college list and making the final choice. Take note of how you feel when you visit each one. Do you fit in when you visit? Are the students friendly? Does the campus feel like home? For most students, the college choice is an emotional one. Simply put, if you’re just not feeling it, you should not apply to that school. Also consider if the college life is resonating with you at all on each of these visits. Again, college might not be the best choice for you at this time. You just might want to take some time explore the world first.

Deferring college is an option

Again, don’t naturally assume that college is a “done deal” after graduation. Keep your options open. If you want to attend college, apply and get accepted. Then, once your offer of admission arrives, you can evaluate whether or not you want to go straight to college after high school or take a gap year to help uncover your passions, to mature or to just take a break. Remember if the thought of a gap year is starting to enter your mind, you can still apply to college, accept, and then defer. Many well-known colleges support taking a gap year. I outlined the steps to defer college in a previous post.

Making the final decision

The decision to attend college or take a gap year and travel should be based on what is best for you. Consider that choice as you go through the entire college admissions process. A gap year just might be perfect for you. Studies actually show that taking a time away from the classroom can help you gain focus and better prepare for what's next. Plus, most students who take a gap year, head off to college more committed to their academics. It is also worth noting that you can even decide to take a year off once you are in college. A year off now can make all the difference in whether you embark on a career and a life you are passionate about.