Dodging the Asteroids: Alternative Paths to College

Perhaps I am revealing too much about my generation when I liken the pace and speed of life for high school students beginning in the junior year to the original old-school video game of Asteroids. In this game asteroids come at the player initially at a comfortable pace, allowing the player to blast them apart rather easily and sequentially. But as the first layers of the asteroids are eliminated, more are revealed and the speed and amount of these hurled rocks increase exponentially. This requires lighting speed and stealth to manage the flow and eliminate the asteroids that want to attack and destroy the player. In this case, the player is the high school junior and some of the asteroids are the activities and obligations that often make up the daily, weekly and yearly schedule of the student.

The intensity of life in the last two years of high school leads me to ask: What options can the player consider beyond rushing right through high school and into freshman year of college? It is important to consider all options within the traditional college planning process and beyond.

As the Asteroids game speeds up and the challenge becomes greater, the pulse of the player quickens, the grip on the trigger is a bit tighter and the body has a tense posture as the sole goal of the game is to eliminate and destroy the asteroids before they take out the player! Luckily, in the game of Asteroids, you get two chances to recover from being knocked out before the game is over. Inevitably, the game is about seeing how long the player can survive.

Why do I suggest that this Asteroids game is akin to the junior year (and the beginning of senior year) for high school students? Because the pace of life for the student can begin to resemble an ongoing game of Asteroids and this will require some readiness.

Here are the asteroids heading your way – be ready for them and plan!

  • Higher-level classes generally mean more work
  • More work means quicker turn-around time for assignments
  • Material tends to be more rich and dense
  • More tests in subject
  • ACT/SAT/Subject Tests/AP/IB Exams
  • Varsity sports, playoffs
  • Leadership positions in clubs
  • School travel
  • Club competitions (band, debate, DECA)
  • Summer sports, camps, jobs, academic experiences, internships, professional shadowing
  • College visits
  • College application preparation
  • Ramping up in August for senior year

The question we often get from families and students is how can we slow this down and take the pressure off the student? Are there strategies that can help? Are we planning for everything? I suggest that asking these questions is just as important as the potential answers. In our planning with families, we talk about timing, tempo and time.

  • Timing is relative to what can be scheduled to meet deadlines
  • Tempo speaks to the pace in responding to requirements and demands
  • Time is an important element to consider when planning and actually executing the demands of the student

Is there enough time? Is there too much time? What is expectation?

This leads me to want to consider an overarching question when thinking about the realm of students in relation to the game of Asteroids.

Do students need to be in a hurry to go straight to college after a traditional four-year high school?

I propose this question so that pre-college options remain in the mind of families as we venture down the road of college planning. What are the alternative paths?

Post-graduate (PG) Year Before College (Please also see: The Role of the Post Graduate (PG) Year in Preparation for College Not Just For Athletes Anymore)

Families might consider extending the education/leadership process by considering a post-graduate (PG) year before college. This allows the student to attend a school away from home, enter into more and diverse leadership opportunities, as well as engage in “signature programs” often allowing students to travel, engage in individualized projects/research or learn something new or novel that otherwise would not have been possible given the time constraints during the first four years of high school. Remember, a PG year follows successful completion of high school, so in many ways, the intensity and pressure of the schedule can be diminished – quality versus quantity can be considered in this new endeavor.

Gap Year

Another alternative path is to defer a college acceptance (*) to participate in formal/informal service programs or travel programs both domestically and around the world or a variety of opportunities of enrichmnet. This is called a Gap Year (please also see: Thinking About Taking a Gap Year?!)

(*) Be sure there is a clear understanding of what the deferral policy of the chosen college or university is before identifying application/enrollment strategy.

Select later enrollment on College Application

Colleges offer different entry point opportunities for first-time students beyond the traditional fall semester. Many colleges are now extending orientation programs for first-time students to be sure that the transition onto campus for a first term is as a smooth as possible.

Enroll in collegiate first-year abroad program at College/University

Many colleges offer first-year programs that begin abroad, away from the bricks and mortar of the campus. In some cases, students can apply to be considered, offer to be considered for an existing program or may be asked by a university to consider the option as a requirement for acceptance to the university. This allows the student and the university some flexibility for enrollment options.

Whatever the eventual choice is for the family and the student regarding educational choices and timing, it is important to share the idea that life often requires an opportunity (or two) to slow down, engage in a different environment, re-charge and re-tool so that the next round of asteroids can be managed with a confident and firm grip and a readiness that allows the game to continue on for the fun and challenge of it, and not just survival.

Let a McMillan Education consultant answer any questions you might have about pathways to college and the desire to balance student readiness with the “right fit” college.

About The Author

Kim Chorosiewski, Ed.D., CSCS, CMAA