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College Bound

Bumps in the Road Do Not End College Dreams

When teens experience interruptions to their high school educations for therapeutic reasons, parents often worry that their hopes for college are dashed. Having worked with families both on urgently needed placements to help students refocus their lives, and subsequently on college planning when the time was right, we can assure you this is not the case. College admission officers are keenly aware of the variety of challenges teenagers face in contemporary society. They understand that teens are still growing in their emotional, intellectual, and social development—and they recognize that overcoming obstacles and mistakes is part of that growth process.

When a student applies for college, whatever has been done to address an issue is usually more important than the issue itself. If a gap on a school transcript is not explained, then admission officers will suspect a student is trying to hide something, and the possibilities of what could explain a gap are often more damaging than whatever circumstances occurred. Admission officers respond far more favorably to a brief statement of the issue in a student's application, followed by a description of what steps the student took to resolve it and what was learned from the experience.

Filling out an application assumes that a student has obtained the level of maturity needed for success in college. For some students, the energy needed to regain a healthy outlook distracted from building their academic record or developing the life skills needed to navigate the complex college world independently. Having helped so many young people go off to college over the years, we can reassure families that colleges appreciate students who take the time they need to be truly ready before applying.

The "classic" model of students going straight from high school to college, and then completing college in a tidy four years is not as common as we tend to think. A post-grad year of high school can benefit seniors who may have gotten their equilibrium back, but not their grades. Other students apply to colleges based on their senior year grades, and then defer attending by one year. They may use this "gap year" to work, travel, or volunteer as they build their personal skills in organization, self-awareness, initiative, and reliability. Still other graduating seniors may not yet be finished with their therapeutic work. Students should keep the priority on getting to a solidly healthy place before taking on more challenges.

Although it may require a shift in thinking, taking a little extra time on the front end is a more effective strategy for thriving in college than rushing forward too fast. When students become overwhelmed in college, they often struggle to rebound from setbacks and subsequent feelings of failure. Young people are more likely to succeed in the rigors of college, and emerging into independent adult life, if they are fully ready for the challenge. And when they are ready, college will be there for them.

Deena Maerowitz specializes in college and graduate school advising. She can be reached at

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need therapeutic services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at