Maybe you have had thoughts, if only fleeting ones, about doing something between high school and further education. Perhaps, you are stressed out, or confused, or looking for a direction for your further education, or you want a change of pace, a chance to explore the world, time to discover more about yourself, and then come back to your formal education later with more enthusiasm and purpose. If thoughts like these have occurred to you, maybe you should consider an alternative year. Applying to schools in senior year, getting letters of acceptance from some or all of those schools, selecting one of them, and then deferring for a year is an acceptable option.
Certainly, as far as colleges go, proceeding straight through in four years has become less of a standard than it used to be. Many colleges have been publishing graduation rates for some time now in terms of what percent of those who started out as freshman graduate within five or six years. Therefore, the question is not whether a student is likely to take time out of his or her formal education, but rather when. Will he or she do it before starting further education, or during it?
Taking the opportunity to do other things before continuing one's formal education is more than an acceptable option, but an option that can have advantages. For example, review your own high school career. Did your growth in self-confidence and maturity during high school result mainly from academic classroom experiences or mainly from experiences outside the classroom and school? For many people it is the latter. What might that indicate about an alternative year after high school?
New situations develop new parts of the personality. An alternative year could help you discover talents and interests that you have not previously been aware of. You might also expand old talents and interests in circumstances you might not presently be able to envision. Your growth during an alternative year could make further formal education that much more meaningful to you when you return to it.
A plan will help you derive the most benefit from an alternative year. A good plan involves: resources, time, and, space.
Resources: the attached list of resources and links will give you something to work with in finding jobs, internships, and volunteer positions, in pursuing interests, developing a new skill or enhancing an old one, becoming aware of all kinds of programs. These resources and links are illustrative and not exhaustive of what is out there.
Time: you might have 15 months to work with. For example, you might have from early June of this year to September of the following year before resuming your formal education. You could sequence a series of activities to fill that time from work to internships to volunteer positions to an adventure program or you could commit yourself to one major activity.
Space: where in the world do you want to be? Do you want to stay at home? Near home? In another part of this country? In another part of the world? A mixture of some or all of these?
Your goals for your alternative year might be clear to you from the beginning. In this case, your search would be for various ways to reach your goals. On the other hand, your goals might only become clear as you find out about the options that are available to you. In either case, your emotions will run the gamut from excitement to nervousness. This is the same range of feelings experienced by those continuing their formal education immediately after graduation. In other words, such feelings are normal when moving from the familiar to the new.
To make the alternative year of your dreams happen will require more or less money depending on what you decide to do. Earning some or all of the money needed to pay for certain programs is part of the experience of an alternative year. If you pick some expensive options that might mean you spend the first half of your alternative year earning the money for what you do in the second half of your alternative year.
Begin your investigation of options by browsing this website and its links. Also, check out some of the print resources that are suggested. What sparks your interest? Follow up on any options that attract you. Contact those organizations directly to find out more information. Create file folders for each organization. As questions occur to you write them down and put them in the appropriate folder. Read the printed information as it begins to arrive in the mail. File it. Re-contact organizations with the questions that have surfaced because of learning more. Ask to speak with others who have participated in the program offered by that organization. Ultimately, good decisions are based on good information.
Alternative Year Planning
If you want help in planning how to use an alternative year (travel, internship, employment, volunteer work, etc.), the following organizations will do so for a fee.
Find jobs at mountain lodges, vacation spots, state and national parks, ski resorts, etc. How do you like the thought of doing landscape work on Nantucket for the summer, or being on the wait staff at a lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or working next summer on board the Midnight Sun train running between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Dynamy is now in its fifth decade of existence. Based in Worcester, MA this program provides both the structure and the independence that appeals to some people. The program parallels the academic year. Participants live together in small groups. Dynamy provides up to three lengthy internships and the option of earning some college credit. The full time, residential nature of this program adds to the cost.
The Backdoor Guide contains an incredible amount of information on jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities indexed and categorized along with hundreds of web links in areas such as: adventure careers; camps, resorts, and ranches; the great outdoors; the environment; artistic adventures; socially responsible jobs; and goin' world wide.
The programs in this section cover a variety of different experiences. Use the following legend to obtain a quick idea of the areas that a particular program includes.
E = Employment
I = Internships
O = Outdoors
T = Travel Learning/Adventure Learning
V = Volunteer Work/Service Learning
Under Programs and Countries look into the AFS Community Service Program. For those 18 years of age or older the AFS Community Service Program offers placements of four months to a year in more than 20 countries. The placements are with community services organizations.
Americorps members address community needs in four areas: education, public safety, human services, and the environment. Americorps members earn a stipend, receive health insurance, and at the end of their service a financial award currently set at up to $4,725 to be used for further education. Americorps applicants can choose from nearly 1,000 local and national groups with whom they would like to complete their service.
Amigos de las Americas (T,V)
Amigos places high school and college age youth in community health projects throughout Latin America. The projects take place during the summer. Participants must have had two years or the equivalent of high school Spanish or Portuguese and have participated in the Amigos training program usually done through the local Amigos Chapter. There is one in Boston.
City Year (E)
City Year operates in locations around the country such as Boston, Providence, South Carolina, California, Texas, etc. As an Americorps member, it offers the benefits mentioned above to its participants.
CIEE helps you to find internships, jobs, homestays, educational opportunities, language programs, etc. around the world.
CSIET was founded in 1984 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Federation of State High School Associations. The purpose of CSIET has been to establish and maintain standards for international educational travel. Most organizations emphasize programs for current high school students or recent graduates. 80+ organizations have sought and received recognition from CSIET. Check out their Advisory List for the email and/or website of organizations and programs that have received CSIET approval.
Earthwatch offers many short term expeditions to various parts of the world. All Earthwatch expeditions promote sustainable conservation of our natural resources and cultural heritage by creating partnerships between scientists, educators, and the general public.
Global Quest (T)
Global Quest offers programs in Thailand and Ecuador.
Global Routes (T,I)
Global Routes places high school and college age students in community service internships in Belize, China, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya, India, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, and Thailand.
Global Volunteers (T,V)
Global Volunteers offers one, two, or three week service learning opportunities around the world. GV goes back to the same places year after year and multiple times in the same year. So if you want to stay longer in a place it may be possible to go over with one group and return home with another.
Habitat for Humanity has built thousands of homes around the world since its founding in 1976. With an estimated 1.5 billion people lacking decent shelter there's a lot left to do.
Idealist (V, I, E, T)
Idealist is the most comprehensive directory of nonprofit and volunteer resources on the web. Over 71,000 organizations in 140 countries are in their database. You can search by organization name, location, or mission. You can find paid and unpaid positions on a state by state basis by doing a general search or you can specify the kind of work you are interested in such as: the arts, children and youth, community service, the environment, health, housing and homelessness, media, poverty and hunger, and many other areas.
NOLS teaches outdoor skills and leadership in courses lasting 10 days to a full semester in wilderness areas all over the world.
Outward Bound (O)
OB offers adventure/outdoor education programs throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The programs range from the ocean to the desert and the mountains.
School for Field Studies (O, T)
SFS offers summer programs and semester programs in Australia, British Columbia, Baja Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa, and Costa Rica. These programs focus on environmental issues with a direct connection between learning and doing. High school students, recent high school graduates, and college students are accepted into the summer programs. Semester programs usually require a college level science class and a semester of college as a prerequisite.
Founded after World War I in Europe as an alternative to military service SCI-IVS believes when groups of people from different countries are living and working together on a grassroots community service project barriers between them will decrease and international understanding increase. Short term work camps, medium length volunteer positions (3 months), and longer term opportunities are available primarily in North America and Europe.
Sea Education Association (O, T)
The Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, MA offers an 8 week Summer Session welcomes applications from high school students and recent graduates.
Student Conservation Association (O,E, V)
SCA offers volunteer, internship, and job opportunities. The work is in the outdoors, with nature, the environment, and conservation issues. Program opportunities can last for a month, a season, or up to a year.
Based in England SPW annually recruits 500 young people between the ages of 18 and 28 from the developed and developing world to work in Africa and Asia in environmental and education programs.
Study Abroad (T, I)
Study Abroad encompasses internships, cultural, linguistic, and educational programs.
Volunteers for Peace (V, T)
VFP is a member of the Coordinating Committee for Intentional Voluntary Service at UNESCO. Through VFP's searchable database you can identify 1800 short term intercultural service adventures in 70 countries.
Where There Be Dragons (V, T)
Old maps drew dragons in the areas beyond the known world. For most westerners Asia is unknown. WTBD offers programs in many Asian countries.
World Learning (T)
World Learning operates several programs around the world covering education, training, study abroad, international exchange, and international development.
Young Judaea (T)
Young Judaea's year course in Israel places recent high school graduates in Jerusalem, on a kibbutz, in a development town, in an environmental field school, on an army base, etc. with academic studies, hikes, through the countryside, leadership training seminars, etc.