Q: Our son just graduated from high school, but isn't ready for college. Mariano's considering military service, but I worry that he'll never go to college if he enlists. His job options are few in our small town, and I'm afraid he'll just drift if he stays here. Our minister suggested a "gap year" in a service program. Can you recommend a program for a teen with talent who hasn't figured out how to use it?
A: A gap year -- a break from formal education, often between high school and the start of college -- can include traveling, volunteering, interning, working or a combination of activities. The time off can be a good option for students such as Mariano, "as long as the year has a purpose, structure, routine and goals that will help him bring the benefits of further education into focus," says Sally Reed, editor of College Bound, a monthly publication on college admissions and financial aid (collegeboundnews.com).
Ideally, this time away from formal education increases self-awareness, challenges comfort zones and encourages experimentation with possible careers, according to the American Gap Association (americangap.org).
For example, Mariano might consider the following programs that attract high school students interested in doing a year of service before heading to college.
-- AmeriCorps offers a range of opportunities from VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), a program that helps eradicate poverty through education initiatives, to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Corps, which puts young people at the forefront of disaster relief.
AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is a full-time residential program for men and women ages 18 to 24. NCCC is modeled on the successful Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. Members work from one of five campuses -- Denver; Baltimore; Sacramento, California; Vicksburg, Mississippi; or Vinton, Iowa.
AmeriCorps volunteers receive a modest living allowance and limited health benefits. Check out various programs at nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.
-- The National Park Service's Public Land Corps restores and protects America's National Parks. Members, who are between 16 and 25 years old, receive a living allowance and are trained to build and preserve trails in remote areas, prevent wildfires by clearing fire fuels, remove invasive species and add features that keep park visitors safe. Go to nps.gov/gettinginvolved/youthprograms.
-- City Year (cityyear.org), a national youth service program founded in 1988, operates in 26 cities across the United States. Members are a diverse group of 18- to 25-year-olds who complete a year of rigorous community service, leadership development and civic engagement.
"City Year brings young people together to do great work, center themselves and decide their futures," says David Caplan, dean of New York's City Year chapter. "I love to see Corps members go from their service year to colleges and universities, work for Fortune 500 companies or even start their own nonprofits. The experience teaches them firsthand their power to change the world around them."
-- If Mariano chooses to go into military service, encourage him to connect with Student Veterans of America (SVA), an organization that helps veterans get the resources needed to succeed in higher education. (Learn more at studentveterans.org.)
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)