Transitioning to college right after high school is not for everyone. Taking off a year or more can be a very helpful tool for many young people. Some students need to regroup after the rigors of high school, especially those with learning differences.
The year off should be a planned, structured blueprint outlining what the individual student needs to work on in order to feel ready for the academic, social and emotional aspects of college.
There are many different reasons a student may need to take time off before entering the college environment. Some students just need more time to mature. They may need to work on their relationships with others as well as their daily living skills. Students with learning differences often find high school so arduous that they do not have the time or energy to learn to tackle the less academic aspects of high school such as learning to drive, cook, do laundry and understanding money management.
Other students may need more time to work with therapists on emotional and social issues. College is a big step forward and understanding how to regulate your emotions and how to handle relationships with college administration, professors and other students can be tricky.
Unlike high school, students will be on their own to navigate administrative tasks such as signing up for classes and talking to advisors as well as advocating for themselves with professors. This may be the first time a student has had to advocate for himself, and the student must have good self-awareness and self-advocacy skills. Working on these skills before entering college, either with a parent or a professional, is essential for students with learning differences.
Many students have never worked outside the classroom and need this time to experience the working world. Students may need coaching in this area and parents may want to enlist the help of a career counselor to help foster this process. Working can be an excellent teacher in time management, money management, relationships and responsibility. A first job can be both a difficult and rewarding undertaking and students will need the opportunity to experience bumps in the road, learning life lessons along the way. Parents, buckle up, it will be an experience for you too.
If you believe your child is not yet ready for the responsibility of a job, you may want to point him or her toward volunteerism. Performing volunteer work takes away much of the pressure that a job may have. Most people who volunteer are greeted by appreciative people and the environment is usually less harsh. It’s a great way to ease a reluctant job candidate into a working environment. There are volunteer opportunities in animal shelters, food pantries, assisted living facilities/nursing homes and religious affiliated opportunities. Also, check out the internet for volunteer sites that match volunteers to opportunities in their area such as volunteermatch.org and allforgood.org.
Regardless of what road your student will take on this year off, be careful to make it a structured one with accountability. Make a blueprint. What are the skills that your child will need to work on this year? How will he or she accomplish that? What will the timetable be? If you feel that you are not capable of setting up this blueprint for your child, enlist the help of a professional. Many professionals will be capable of helping with this process including a career counselor, life coach or therapist.
If you’re still on the fence about whether college is the right choice for your child, pre-college programs are a great way to experience the college environment. Pre-college programs are available during summer months before junior or senior year. These programs help students experience real classroom expectations as well as social demands, and can be a great indicator of whether your child is ready for college or not.
Don’t forget that if your child is planning on going to college, he or she will have to also be working on the college search process so make sure there is plenty of time in his or her schedule to accomplish that. The student will have to fill out applications, and research and visit colleges. If you don’t think college is right for your child, start researching certificate programs and vocational schools. I’ll be exploring careers without college in a future article.
Maureen Holohan is a specialist in preparing young people with learning differences, such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorders, for life after high school. Learn more about Maureen at www.holohanconsulting.com. Contact 516-428-7502 or email:Maureen@holohanconsulting.com for more information.