For high school seniors, getting into college can sometimes feel like a race to the finish line. When I was a senior, I remember thinking the whole process felt like a competition. Which of my friends will get accepted first? Who will get into the best school? When will this process be over? As the school year draws to a close, seniors tire of the question, “So, where are you going to college?”
For me, the answer ended up being a bit unconventional – I was heading to Deerfield Academy for a postgraduate year.
A PG year is an academic gap year spent at a boarding school. Instead of working or traveling or pursuing a non-academic interest, a PG year is essentially a fifth year of high school during which students can improve their academic profiles, develop athletically, and create study habits that with prepare them for college. Boarding schools will typically accept between 15 and 20 PGs each year, both male and female, athletes and non-athletes. PG students enter the rising senior class, and have the opportunity to improve their chances of being admitted to their top choice colleges. College admissions offices love PG’s because they are often more mature and better prepared to work hard once on campus.
To some, this may sound like a horrible circumstance. Redo my senior year? Watch my friends go off to college without me? A boarding school with strict rules? During my senior year in California, I got into several colleges I was excited about, however I decided to attend Deerfield to maximize my potential and feel more prepared for college. I was always young for my grade – and I graduated when I was just 17 – so I thought it made sense to delay college for a year and give myself more time. My year at Deerfield prepared me for the balancing act that makes up college life and allowed me to feel much more confident going into my freshman year. It gave me a chance to try out life on the east coast and make incredible friends in the process. To this day, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
PG programs can vary in terms of academic rigor and social setting, depending on the school. Deerfield, like many other east coast prep schools, has a culture of excellent academics, strong sports teams, and intense school spirit. Students are required to wear ties and dresses to class, and twice a week there are formal sit-down meals in the dining hall. All these things were a bit of a culture shock at first; yet a few weeks into the fall while playing soccer, I had made great friends and was having a blast living in the dorms with my classmates for the first time.
I went on several college visits that fall, and was accepted to to my first choice school, Middlebury, early decision to play baseball. Deerfield helped me to understand what college would be like in rural Vermont, and to familiarize me with the culture of New England liberal arts colleges. I was living on my own for the first time, making new friends from all over the country, playing soccer and baseball with new teammates, and taking challenging English, writing and history courses. Although still technically in high school, I felt a new sense of independence and responsibility. I took a fall break trip to New York City with my new friends, and had fun exploring the mountains of Western Massachusetts. I also experienced the first real winter of my life, and even took part in the annual all-school snowball fight, which in traditional fashion was between the senior class against the rest of the student body.
My PG year was an incredible experience, and I am glad that I wasn’t scared to do things a little differently. It was nice to slow down and take an extra year to determine what I wanted out of my college experience. While a PG year isn’t a good fit for everyone, I would encourage all students who go through the college application process to do so at their own pace and not be afraid to take their time.