Your student is about to graduate from high school, and they’re ready to head to college in the fall. Congratulations!
But wait! What if only part of that statement is true?
Your student may be about to graduate from high school, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they’re ready to head to college in the fall. Not all students mature and operate on the same timetable. Not all students have an immediate interest in college. More and more students and their parents are considering a postgrad or fifth year of high school to prepare for college.
What is a high school post grad year?
A postgrad year does not mean that your student simply stays in their high school a year longer. It is not a fifth year because your student has not done well and is not ready to graduate. A postgrad high school year is a specialized year of school for students who have already earned their high school diploma. It is most often a year of school spent at an independent high school with a specialized curriculum designed for the experience.
Postgrad experiences have been around for a long time. They have traditionally existed at New England prep schools for male athletes who need an extra year to improve athletically and to bolster grades. Recently, however, more schools offer postgrad experiences, more students are applying, including females and non-athletes. According to the Boarding School Review, as many as 146 schools now offer such programs. A few schools offer day programs as well.
A postgrad program serves as a transitional year for a student to experience living on their own, away from home. Programs are generally designed for academically strong, motivated students who want to experience new courses, challenges and personal growth. Programs are often competitive, and schools look for students who have demonstrated academic growth throughout their high school careers and who have demonstrated a positive trend. The postgrad year allows these students to build on their past experiences.
Why would my student want to consider an extra year of high school?
Students opt for postgrad programs for many reasons. Your student may consider one or several of the following factors.
- Your student may need an additional year to gain some maturity to be better able to manage the many facets of college life.
- Your student may be an athlete who would like an additional year to improve athletically and also to receive more exposure to colleges who might visit the private school to scout.
- Your student may have experienced a bump in the road during high school such as a serious illness, a family crisis or family death, that prevented them from achieving the success that they had hoped.
- Your student may need an additional year to bolster grades, study skills, time management or SAT scores.
- Your student may need an additional year to explore new interests such as athletics, drama, debate or scientific research.
- Your student may benefit from the opportunity to use an additional year to distance themselves from a particularly poor early year in high school.
- Your student may be referred to such a program by a college admissions officer who suggests that the year will provide the student with a background to be more successful at college. Colleges recognize that students who have participated in a postgrad year are less of an admissions risk than some students straight from high school.
- Your student may want to build their resume, grades, test scores and experiences to be able to apply to a higher tier of college than they may now be able to consider.
What are the benefits of an additional year of high school?
Although postgrad programs are a fifth year of high school, the importance of the year is that it is significantly different from the traditional four years. This is definitely not intended to be “more of the same.”
- Students may experience small classes at an independent school. This can be especially important if your student graduated from a large public high school with large classes.
- Students may have the opportunity to build strong relationships with faculty members. This is good “practice” for college faculty relationships, and can also result in strong letters of recommendation.
- Your student will have the experience of living away from home on a school campus.
- Your student may use the transition year to explore a new part of the country which may influence their ultimate college choice.
- Your student will have the opportunity to mature socially, emotionally, academically, and to gain confidence in their abilities.
- Because all necessary high school requirements are already completed, your student will have the opportunity to make academic choices with college in mind. They can fill in gaps or take more advanced courses in areas of interest.
- Your student will be exposed to new students, new perspectives, and have opportunities for new types of personal growth.
When should my student think about a postgrad year?
Just as many students consider a postgrad year for many different reasons, students explore the idea of a program at different times. Timing is as individual as reasons for attending.
- Some students know early on in their high school career that a program of this type will be beneficial. They begin planning early and plan their high school curriculum around a fifth year.
- Some students choose to apply to both college and a postgrad program and make the decision based on college acceptances.
- Some students may not be accepted to the colleges that they have chosen and then decide to do a postgrad year and reapply.
- Some students are accepted to college but choose to defer for a year in order to use the postgrad year to ease the transition.
What should my student expect?
Postgrads are considered regular seniors in most programs. Although some programs may give students a bit more independence, and some courses choices may be different, postgrads are assimilated into the life of the school.
- Your student will need to consider carefully the fit of the program to their needs. Not all programs are the same. They should consider size, structure, academics, counseling availability, extracurricular activities. They will need to think carefully about goals and how they fit with the program.
- Your student should be prepared to have to explain their decision to people who may not understand the nature of a postgrad year. This is an important factor in certain parts of the country where such programs are less common. (Some high school counselors may not even have considered such a program.)
- Your student may experience mixed emotions as their friends head off to college and talk about their experiences. Your student’s experiences will be significantly different.
- Your student will need to get engaged quickly when they enter a program. The number of postgrads will likely be small and they will need to get to know students who have been together throughout high school. However, most schools work diligently to assimilate new students.
- Your student will need to think about their next step immediately. They will have only one year in this program. As soon as they enter the program they will be thinking about college the following year.
A postgrad year is not for every student. But it is an ideal opportunity for some students. You and your student may want to discuss the possibility of a fifth year experience in order to better prepare for college success. At a time when the average time to college graduation nationally is five years, investing in a fifth year of high school may increase the chances of your student completing college in four years – at the school of their choice.
If you decide to consider the option, talk about your student’s goals and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, look carefully at available programs, talk to students who have participated in postgrad programs, and discuss the option with your student’s counselor and/or college admissions personnel. Knowing and exploring the options will make a difference no matter what your student decides.