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.

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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@Pre-College: 8 Tips To Find The Best Summer Arts Program

Temple University, Tyler School of Art

Summer seems a long way off. Especially since the first real snow is just beginning to accumulate outside my window. Yet, even with snowflakes falling, this is the time to put a summer plan in motion for your artsy teen.

I realize that warm summer months are the perfect time for downtime. But getting into top college programs is competitive; a summer program can further your teen’s artistic skills and resume while simultaneously giving him a real taste for college life.

What should you and your teen look for as you search for the best college fit in a pre-college program? Here are just a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Syracuse University Senior Fashion Show: Lailee Waxman

    Syracuse University Senior Fashion Show: Lailee Waxman

    Programs vary in length between one – six weeks.

  • Some colleges limit their summer programs to rising juniors and seniors.
  • Many institutions will count pre-college courses towards college credit. But make sure to inquire even if your teen matriculates elsewhere; some courses are transferable.
  • Some colleges require campus residency over the summer while others don’t provide campus housing at all. The latter means living at home or finding another residence.
  • Most pre-college courses have spring deadlines. So don’t wait until the snow melts to do your research.
  • And speaking of deadlines, if you’re looking for a financial aid to help cover the costs, keep your eyes open to scholarship application deadlines. They often have different deadlines.
  • When totalling up your costs make sure to consider tuition, housing, meal plan, fees, and supplies. Supply costs vary by course.
  • Health and other campus services are typically available just like during fall – spring school terms. Residence hall and academic advisors are available as well. Recreation and other facilities are open.

Attendance at a specific summer program is no guarantee that your aspiring artist will be accepted in the fall. However, it will provide a substantial leg up by delivering a college-level challenge, building strengths and skills, contributing to a future portfolio, and providing the opportunity to connect with a professor – who could possibly write a reference letter when its application time.

I’ve listed a few great art and design programs to get your search started. Good luck! And let me know where you end up –

CCAD
RISD
SCAD
Syracuse University
Temple University (Tyler School of Art)

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ACL On The Road

puzzle-pieces -halfI’m taking Art.College.Life. on the road! Ok, I’m actually taking it to the library, but it’s a start, right?

On Wednesday, June 18th I’ll lead a discussion on finding the best fit in a visual arts program, The College Search Process For Art & Design Majors, at the Bexley Public Library at 7:00pm. Please join me, and tell your friends about it.

My goal for the evening is to guide local families through the puzzle known as the college admissions process. Our conversation will cover many of the topics I write about in the posts on Art.College.Life., gleaned from two years of discussions and meetings with college admissions personnel, and visual arts professors and students.

Here’s just a sampling of what we’ll cover:

  • Where’s the best place to begin the college search process?
  • How is the process different for visual art majors?
  • How important is your student’s portfolio?
  • What are your financial options?
  • What career opportunities are available for art and design majors?

Researching the vast number of quality visual arts programs, and narrowing down which are the best for your student can seem daunting and overwhelming. Join our conversation Wednesday night, and gain an understanding for a clearer way through the process.

I hope you can join us!

THE COLLEGE SEARCH PROCESS FOR ART & DESIGN MAJORS

Wednesday, June 18
7:00 – 8:30 pm
Bexley Public Library
Bexley, OH

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Paying For It All

pastels - financial aid 101.indd

With decision day behind us, seniors are breathing a sigh of relief. College plans are made. Woo hoo!! Let the partying begin.

Now it’s time for juniors to begin feeling those uneasy twinges; where will I go? How will I make my decision?  What factors should I include in my decision process?

Clearly, the increasing cost of a higher education needs to play a considerable role in your thought process. The cost of attending college is still on the rise, and the impact is significant for everyone involved. In fact, even the famed Cooper Union has been affected by the rising tide, stating in a press release last week that after more than 100 years the school will begin charging tuition to undergraduates. Add in the fact that accumulated student debt has outpaced credit card debt, and it’s enough to make every college-bound student and family nervous.

Ever an optimist, I do see a glimpse of good news on the horizon. Yesterday’s Huffington Post claimed “Class of 2013’s Starting Salary Tracking Higher On Average Than Last Year’s Grads.” Keep in mind it reads “on average,” but still, the news isn’t all doom and gloom.

So what does this roller coaster of news mean for high school students looking at art schools? Financially speaking here are three things to focus on:

1 – Be smart about your college choices.  There’s where you want to go, and where you can afford to go. They may not be the same place. This may also mean foregoing an arts college and instead choosing to attend a comprehensive liberal arts university. (Read: if you’re not sure you want to make a career out of your artistic passion you’ll find more potential career opportunities at a comprehensive institution.)

2 – Compare the detailed costs.  Make sure you research and understand all the costs associated with each institution. That means tuition, room & board, health insurance, transportation fees, books, art supplies, etc. It’s a long list. And some schools will have a breakdown of different costs associated with different art majors. If that information isn’t readily available, ask for it.

3 – Make time to thoroughly understand financial aid and scholarship opportunities for each school on your list.  This process can be thoroughly confusing, frustrating, time consuming, and daunting. But from personal experience I can tell you it is worth the effort. The Net Price Calculator, made available through College Board, is an excellent tool to help you estimate your eligibility for financial aid options, and it’ll help you compare schools in the process. Current participating art schools include Ringling, CCAD, FIDM, Pacific Northwest College of Art, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, SVA, and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design.

As for scholarships, remember you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck from the college you attend. That doesn’t mean searching for privately funded scholarships isn’t worth the effort; it just means that the latter typically give out smaller allowances, so be realistic about what you can get.

Knowledge is the key. So whether you’re a rising junior or senior – starting your research now is a smart idea.

Next week we’ll continue this discussion.

This is the first of two posts focusing on financial options and opportunities for art students.