Stepping Off the College-to-Career Treadmill for a Gap Year

(Getty Images)

Today’s the day. Acceptance letters are in, deposits are paid, and audible sighs of relief can be heard from parents across the country. Woohoo!

Another year of graduating seniors are headed to college. If you’re a parent of one of these aforementioned teens the relief is real. I’ve known the joy and accompanying melancholy of it myself.

I’ve also known the other side of this coin, with a son who wasn’t ready to keep pace on the college-to-career treadmill. He, like many others, needed a gap year.

Gap years can prove to be life-changing opportunities of growth and opportunity, whether considered because of placement on a college wait list or just time off needed before launching a career. Their real value is the ability to press pause.

So what actually is a gap year? For starters, it’s not a frivolous vacation. It is strategic time for your teen to fine-tune his or her personal path. In his recent New York Times article, Kyle DeNuccio referred to his year off as “an opportunity to discover a sense of purpose outside of school.” A year on your own terms can do that for you. Whether traveling, volunteering, interning, learning a new language, or testing a possible career direction, gap years provide strategic time for teens to step out of their comfort zone to explore and uncover new things. The outcome of newfound skills, clarity, independence, and an appreciation for how others live can be transformational.

My son, teaching English in Vietnam during his gap year

Art and design majors have the benefit of being creative problem solvers by their very nature. A year off the treadmill will only enhance that skill set. The time away also proves that they’re not risk-adverse. Coincidentally, both those attributes are highly coveted by employers.

Traditionally gap years occur between sophomore and junior years at college – when I needed mine. But, they can be taken anytime. My son took his after college; he was fortunate to have a job waiting for him when he returned. We each paid our own way, benefitted immensely from the experience, and were clearly focused when we stepped back on the track.

Want to learn more? Kyle’s article is a great place to start understanding the realities of stepping off for a year. Only you and your teen will know if it’s the right thing to do.

What Art & Design Students Need to Know About RIT

I know, I know. An institute of technology is not the most obvious place to find a top arts program. Most likely it’s not even on your radar. Right? Well, it should be!

cias-twitter-logoAfter an in-depth tour of the College of Imaging Arts & Sciences (CIAS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) last month I came away thoroughly convinced that this is a great school for visual artists.

Despite its name, artistic learning has been part of RIT since it’s founding in the 1820’s. Today, CIAS encompasses roughly 2,000 of the 15,300 undergraduates on campus. That means visual arts students can benefit from the intimacy of a small college and the resources of a large research university.

CIAS boasts high retention rates, and both the university and the college continually receive high rankings. Clearly, they’re doing something right.

Abundance of available photography equipment

Abundance of available photography equipment

The School of Design is the largest school in the college and it provides a wide path of instruction in 2D, 3D, and 4D design. Emphasis is on designing for process over product and using technology to connect to real world experiences.

Photography looms large on campus. That makes sense when you realize this is the land of photography and print pioneers Kodak and Xerox. Students in the School of Photographic Arts & Sciences start with a comprehensive introduction to the field. As Susan Lakin, program chair for Advertising Photography further explained, “RIT has so many facets of photography available. Students discover the field and its broadness, then are able to explore a multitude of options to discover what their interests are.” Those options include everything from fine art and commercial applications to integration with journalism, business, and science. 

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Another distinguishing program on this technology-focused campus is the School of American Crafts. Seriously. As with other majors, students studying artistic craftsmanship are focused and dedicated. The program has a rigorous studio requirement and includes a year of business courses in preparation for a career in the arts.

Engagement with the real world is built into the curriculum here. Co-ops and time abroad are both highly regarded and highly encouraged. Creative Industry Day, an annual event, promotes portfolio reviews and networking with creative industry professionals.

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into CIAS, which is foretelling that you’ll be challenged once you’re in. Over and over during my visit, I heard that dedication, passion, and focus are required for success. But the benefits are clear and enormous. Artistic mastery, a career-focused education, and a job after graduation. I hope you check it out.

Scholarship Season: Artists Paying It Forward

Obstacles, by their very nature, create frustration. They restrict us and often cause us to just give up. Thank goodness, every once in a while, someone comes along to change the status quo and create a new path forward. Alison Hess is such a person. She’s a trailblazer who’s paying it forward.

As a high school student, her heart was set on studying art in college. Yet she didn’t have the financial means to make it happen. Her obstacles were many, including finding scholarship after scholarship for prospective pre-law and pre-med majors but not for burgeoning artists. Having to rely mostly on her good grades and general scholarship opportunities, she made it happen. But that struggle stuck with her.

Fast-forward to 2014 and a new path emerged for students wanting to study art and design in college: Zinggia Ohio Art Scholarship.

Alison, with help from her husband Jason Salisbury, did the difficult legwork to establish the fund. Now beginning their third year, both are happy to report that they’re making a difference in the lives of others. Their goal, to “help art students in Ohio further their education in the visual arts field“ is clearly making a difference. Award winners in the first two years of the fund’s existence have applied their newfound financial resources to art programs at Ohio University and SCAD. The $2,000 scholarship is for Ohio-based high school seniors, and can be used towards art and design study at any college in the U.S. The deadline for this year’s application is March 5th.

passion quote - chasing it downWhen not paying it forward, Alison, an illustrator, can be found selling her artwork through her Esty shop, Canning Crafts.

Jason can be found applying his graphic design skills at Ohio Thrift Stores where he is in charge of marketing, graphic design, and advertising. Together they’re also creating coloring books and other kid-centered creative items.

At the risk of being repetitive, take the time to read Scholarship Season: Tips and Tools for some valuable scholarship insights. And make sure your Ohio-based teen looks into Zinggia. Both parent and teen will be glad you did.

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Decision Time For the SAT: In with the New or Stay with the Old?

Parents of high school students are most likely aware that changes are coming soon to the SAT. High school juniors and seniors especially need to be in the know. The last test date for the current SAT is January 23, 2016. In March, the new one takes over. Now is the time for strategic family conversations to either go with what you know or wait for the new version.

So what’s all the fuss about the switch? Plenty. For those who can take either, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. If your teen has already been studying with prep-tests and seems to have a feel for the type of questions asked, I’d opt for the current version. On the other hand if your family isn’t at that stage yet and can wait it out a few extra months, I’d most likely suggest going with the new version. Arguments can be made for both sides.

The College Board has two SAT sites now, one for the old, another for the new. And a recent New York Times article explains the abundance of changes.

Here’s the bottom line of what you need to know:

  • March 5, 2016, is debut day for the new SATstopwatch
  • The test consists of two sections now instead of three: Math, and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
  • Students won’t be penalized for guessing answers anymore
  • The new test requires a lot more reading – even in the math section
  • Archaic and obsolete language are out of the reading sections, current language is in
  • Math sections dive deeper into each subject area, and more advanced math from a greater number of courses is included. This may tip the scale towards taking the test later in high school
  • The essay will become optional, and relies more on reading and comprehension than in the past

The new SAT is heavily based on the Common Core curriculum. Translation: it’s centered on what students are actually learning in school now. Again, if you’ve got the time I’d research both before making a decision.

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Michigan Proud

In Ohio, it’s known as that “school up north.” You know, the one that shall not be named. Blame it on superstition and a decades-old rivalry.

Stamps logoThe reality is that the University of Michigan (UofM) deserves more than just a mention. It’s one of the best higher education institutions in the country. An outstanding comprehensive public research university, it is always near the top in comparative college rankings. It has a unique visual arts program, provides a global focus, an active student life, and is set in a charming college-town, in a beautiful part of the country. Oh yeah, and they have this Big 10 football team.

UofM is a big place: 27,000 undergraduate students big. All that prestige and size provide excellent resources for the intimate Penny Stamps School of Art & Design (Stamps); 550 undergraduates intimate.

Lithography demonstration

Lithography demonstration

Stamps students earn a BFA or a BA in art and design, not in any individual area. The school’s interdisciplinary approach is based in the studio and is designed to educate students across mediums, preparing them for careers that will require knowledge across disciplines. Stamps exposes them to the bridges between those mediums and gives them the freedom to shift their focus along the way.

Another distinguishing feature is the university’s dedication to creating citizens of the world. Program requirements include time spent studying abroad and a semester engaging with communities other than their own. The latter can manifest itself in a number of ways including teaching art to elementary school children in Detroit, working with veterans or working with chronically ill individuals.

The school maintains a strong focus on careers as well, engaging every freshman from the first semester through senior year. Support services help with resume building, interview skills, internship guidance and more, all while communicating that a successful career is each individual’s responsibility.

Students inspired to learn something new should apply. Stamps is seeking independent thinkers who are open to new ideas and ready to integrate their expanding view of the world into their creative futures. If that’s your son or daughter, I highly suggest you give this school a good, long look.