Gap Year

Edited: June 10, 2022, 10:01 AM · Susan's mention on another thread of a gap year for kids before applying to college has me wondering about this. My daughter has always been the youngest in her class, she'll begin HS as a 13 year old. She has made great progress in the last few years, and has had increasing opportunities. But, so far, she has not been In the kind of "hothouse" environment that some people in the major hubs have. Since she would be 17 at the start of college, a gap year might be a useful thing. She is in the range of being prepared by the end of HS without it, and we are taking big steps as a family to keep things moving forward.
So just a very broad question about folks experience with this and the many forms it might take. At home, overseas, at a pre-college..... Does anybody have their own experiences or kid's experiences to share?

Replies (37)

June 7, 2022, 8:17 AM · I have no experience with a gap year but I have quite a bit of experience with being the youngest. Having done two grades in one year in elementary school, I did not turn 18 until after completing my freshman year at Oberlin. While in retrospect I can think of strong arguments against skipping grades in general, I don’t think my college experience was damaged by my tender age.

My daughter was born on the school cutoff date, making her the youngest in her class. She turned 18 about three weeks into her freshman year. No harm or disadvantage there either.

Edited: June 7, 2022, 8:59 AM · My daughter is also one of the youngest in her grade (late summer birthday) and we haven't had any issues other than her being really small, though she just tends to be small in general. Having said that, I would not hesitate doing a gap year for her given her age if I thought it would benefit her.

As for gap year programs, I have no personal experience, but I can tell you what people in my kids' programs have done. Their pre-college program has allowed students to stay an extra year on a case-by-case basis, and I think this is something that is widely done at both pre-college programs and private schools. I know Interlochen, for example, has a whole gap year program.

Most of the other students we know have not done as much of a formalized program. One this year is spending the fall in Europe taking lessons and doing masterclasses. Another (during the height of COVID) just did online lessons and practiced.

June 7, 2022, 10:51 AM · Yes, I was thinking of her taking advantage of her youth to be in the best position for college auditions.
Being the youngest has never been a problem for her, in fact she skipped a grade in Math last year.
June 7, 2022, 11:19 AM · Looking now, I see the other private school has a post HS grad year, too. Which I wasn't aware of.
June 7, 2022, 3:14 PM · I skipped three grades, and my parents forced me to take a gap year after high school. I did not want to do so, since all my friends had gone off to college. It was a somewhat lonely year, largely rescued by my youth symphony and the friends I made there.

During that gap year, I enrolled as a "part-time" student at a good liberal arts college in my hometown. (I took a full freshman courseload.) It also had a conservatory (where I had already been studying with one of the violin profs for years), so I played in the conservatory orchestra. Because I was only 15, at the time the minimum age for the best youth symphony in the area, I was generously allowed to join even though I was no longer in high school. I also had the opportunity to do some paid gigging.

I felt very socially isolated that year, though, after having had numerous good friends in high school and a really active extracurricular schedule previously.

June 7, 2022, 5:03 PM · I was 17 when college started. In retrospect, a gap year would have been a great idea for me, but I wasn't in a position at the time to use it for what I would have needed, which would have been to get a lot sorted out with my mental health. So if I had very strong mentorship and structure, with certain goals of personal development, it could have done me a lot of good - I especially could have used some time to really think about what it might be I wanted to do in the world, rather than starting to slog through engineering because I couldn't think of anything.

So in conclusion, it was probably for the best that I didn't take a gap year, but if I had been offered some opportunity to live in a different country or something, knowing that college will be there when I come back, and my needs are met, sure, why not? It's really hard to make heads of tails of these kinds of counterfactuals.

June 7, 2022, 9:06 PM · My younger kid was a November baby and like your kid will be 17 when she starts college. She does well with music and with school, has not had any issues with maturity, and I am glad that she is only two grades apart from her older brother rather than three. Wouldn't change a thing.
June 7, 2022, 10:53 PM · It depends on why you are considering a gap year.

1. Maybe your kid is not mature enough to be a college student. As you can see from the comments above, there are plenty of kids who are ready as young as 15. Since I teach university chemistry, I can tell you there are kids who are 21 who should have worked a job for a few years before matriculating. My sense tells me that you're going to be able to judge this criterion very accurately for your kids.

2. Your kid is, as a high school senior, on such a steep learning curve on the violin such that the gap year will raise their competitiveness by *an entire tier* of music schools.

In either case, obviously, the gap year needs to be well spent.

June 8, 2022, 7:55 AM · Stan- Not viewing it as a problem but an opportunity to further prepare for college auditions.
Maybe a year at Tianjin Juilliard pre-college? :)
Susan just mentioned it in another thread, and I thought it might be helpful to Christine G.
My daughter is just 13. Her life and choices, just trying to gather info..
June 8, 2022, 10:49 PM · Matthew, I think not being in a hot-house environment during early childhood has its upsides too.

Anyhow, yes, my daughter (11) is young for her grade and since she might do her undergraduate in Europe, I'm thinking about sending her over there during a gap year.

She is super immature so that's a factor for us. She has been going to her school since kindergarten and she'll most likely graduate from there. It's a very insulated community and a social bubble so she needs the extra help transitioning to the world out there.

Edited: June 9, 2022, 6:40 AM · I started school a year ahead, and was nearly always the youngest in my class even while one of the taller ones, and fairly successful academically.

In retrospect, a gap year would have been a great idea. My family was going through a lot and even a year behind the cash register at the Harvard Coop might have helped me cool out and get remotivated. But back than, nobody except complete screwups waited to go to college.

YMMV. People do gap years for all kinds of reasons.

June 9, 2022, 6:27 AM · Kiki-
By hot-house I did not mean pressure but access and opportunity. My daughter has been raised in a very isolated rural area and we've had do a lot to even keep her close to being on track to meet her stated goals.
She is a good player (she won a local concerto competition this weekend) but the rep and expectations Susan had shared will demand some reach. The idea of a gap year as additional time to both mature and polish auditions was just something that sounds worth exploring. And seeing a bit of the world maybe another bonus. As you said on another thread, we will need our daughter to earn some scholarship money to make the better conservatories possible and even sensible.
Steven, I am such a geezer I had to look up YMMV.
June 9, 2022, 7:44 AM · ROTFL, Matt!
Edited: June 9, 2022, 10:53 AM · My Grandson's "gap year" extended from the end of his freshman college year at UC Santa Cruz until he was 25 and spent a year finishing his degree requirements (in music and film) at the New School in New York. During the intervening years he formed the "Steep Ravine Band" that performed all over the western USA and issued 3 studio CDs (in addition to my grandson's 4 solo CDs). He composed almost all the songs on those CDs (his band members did a couple of the others). (Some good stuff on YouTube - especially their "Dark Eyes").

I can add that it WAS NOT a good way to earn a living!!!

He had started piano lessons at age 5 and continued with keyboard and "plucked" instruments and added guitar lessons while in high school - he also has a beautiful singing voice (tenor). He had entered college as an "Environmental Science" major but quickly switched to music. He continued taking courses wherever he could find them during the life of his band (including the Jazz School Institute in Berkeley, CA, where the band members lived when not touring) all of which were accepted toward his degree.

He polished it all off the summer after finishing his degree by attending a film workshop in Rockport, Maine - where he is still living (3 years later) composing music for a show on NPR and for a movie (I think) and getting paid ("well" according to his mother, our daughter) for the work.

He is now (finally) interested in getting into "classical music," where it all started with those piano lessons when he was 5.

June 9, 2022, 9:09 AM · BTW, Matt, I learned this year after watching the class above my son's go through the college audition process that the level his teacher said he needs to be at is really the "may get in to Curtis or Colburn" level. It's not the level to get into Juilliard, NEC, CIM, Eastman, Oberlin, or Indiana.

I am very familiar with the levels of the students who auditioned from both his pre-college and scholarship programs, and was surprised by how well they did. It's a little hard to quantify the scholarship program kids as they are particularly desirable applicants due to their either low income or underrepresented ethnic group status. But even the kids in his pre-college program, most of whom are in the most populous violin category of Asian and female, did really well. The kids who are not yet at Sibelius/Tchaikovsky level and have only done a few of the easier Paganini caprices were getting in to NEC, CIM, and Juilliard -- often with a lot of money. Not always the top studios, but getting in.

Moral of the story: I think I have determined that when you live in a city with strong pre-college music programs (such as NY, Chicago, Boston, LA) you don't realize that the level surrounding you is ridiculously super high. In my son's pre-college program, he is just one of many equally talented kids. In the real world, that's not the reality. There are only a handful of those level kids in the major cities in each grade. There is a LOT more room even at the top schools for kids who are really good, but not Menuhin-good.

June 9, 2022, 10:35 AM · I'm guessing that all the kids in MIC are very good players, even the ones who don't reach as high of a repertoire level. I'm betting that a kid from MIC that auditions with, say, Bruch, is playing a sterling Bruch -- technically clean, musically thoughtful. (I'm faintly amused that Susan's non-serious child is playing Bruch at 12. My own son at age 6 is surrounded by 12-year-olds in his Suzuki program who are in Book 2.)

While the kids in those four cities may be exceptional, there are also plenty of other major cities producing top audition candidates -- Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, maybe the greater NC state (because of UNCSA), Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco, etc. etc. -- wherever there is an excellent symphony orchestra and often at least one decent conservatory. And then there are the talented kids who sprout up randomly in other places without reliably excellence teaching. (And of course conservatories are internationally competitive...)

By the way, there is the notion of "talent clusters". These emerge organically and unpredictably, across multiple fields of endeavors, among both children and adults. In a cluster, there are multiple participants with exceptional abilities, and something about the synergy of the group pushes the cluster, collectively, to much greater heights (including much improving those in their environment). This can occur even within an already-selective environment, such as a conservatory.

Scott Cole likes to point out that music schools like tuition dollars, and therefore admit many more students than will able to find the jobs they dream of. Getting into a top conservatory is only a predecessor step to winning a job in an orchestra -- much less a top orchestra. Many of those students that make it into the greater funnel of the Tier 1 conservatories will ultimately not win full-time orchestra jobs.

June 9, 2022, 12:06 PM · Matthew, congratulations to your daughter!

I know what you mean. My daughter's school which offers all the opportunities one could imagine tries to not apply any pressure on kids until they reach 7th grades. Their philosophy is to make early years more free-range and organic, if that makes sense. But who are we kidding? It's been cutthroat from, from the feeder preschool admission process. Even after the admission, parents have been pushing perhaps not so much with academics but with baseball, water polo, tennis, and golf. Crazier the college admission gets, crazier parents' strategies have become.

We are pretty isolated too when it comes to classical music but she doesn't want to move and doesn't want to go to a boarding school. How she spends her summer is going to be really important moving forward but we'll see how it goes. I'm excited for your family. It sounds like you're moving closer to a precollege program.

Edited: June 9, 2022, 1:53 PM · Lydia I think what you say is likely true, but the more we've looked at this, Mary Ellen's suggestion to me a while back to look at Oberlin was excellent. A third of the music students there are doing a 5-year double degree program, so unlike most places, a double degree seems to be supported and encouraged. (Bard College shares faculty with the nearby top conservatories and requires a second non-music major to study music, but I wonder if the playing level at Oberlin is higher.)

There are schools with both great music programs and great academics but that don't seem to support a double degree the way these places do (Hopkins Rice and Northwestern come to mind). This is going to be difficult enough without doing something that only a handful of people are doing and running the risk of being a second-class citizen.

June 9, 2022, 1:51 PM · My daughter fits into the "most populous violin category of Asian and Female".:)
June 9, 2022, 1:56 PM · She could switch to percussion? :-)
Edited: June 9, 2022, 2:22 PM · We are curious about the Bard program. The school where my wife teaches has a tuition exchange program with them. Free if you can get selected. Adele Anthony and Gil Shaham among others....
If the daughter becomes interested in the dual path...

Funny I had been thinking about starting another thread "Bard Dual Degree Program":)

Edited: June 9, 2022, 2:37 PM · They very transparently put up their student chamber music recitals and end of year solo recitals and orchestra concerts on youtube, recommend you listen.
June 9, 2022, 2:44 PM · Yes, I will look. A parent hears "free" and it gets your attention.
Actually I think the program offers a 4 year Swap, so you would have to pay for the 5 th year.
Way off for now....
Edited: June 9, 2022, 2:46 PM · Application year for us, like Susan.

I've asked this before but if anyone has additional suggestions for supported, coordinated dual degree programs like Oberlin and Bard, I would love to look at them. Right now Harvard/NEC (harder than Curtis to get into but we've met someone doing this in her summer program) and Yale/Yale School of Music are the other ones I've found. Columbia talks about a similar program with Juilliard but so far am not seeing much detail and I question how coordinated it is.

June 9, 2022, 3:16 PM · Eastman and University of Rochester?
June 9, 2022, 3:22 PM · Lawrence University?
Just a couple but I can't say anything about them.
June 9, 2022, 3:29 PM · Yes she has a friend going to Eastman, good suggestion. One of the teachers there pissed me off a few years ago though and I think I must have done the same :-).
June 9, 2022, 3:32 PM · A girl I know lasted less than a year at Eastman (not violin). I am not so sure if the culture at that school is for everyone.
Edited: June 9, 2022, 4:02 PM · I bet the admissions office at Bard knows who ALL their competitors are and could list them straight off.

I've often wondered if these dual-degree programs are real, or if "dual" students are treated as second-class citizens.

A young man that we know is going to Lawrence. He is a very accomplished cellist.

I have to say that I don't agree with Kiki that raising a child has to be "cutthroat since kindergarten." That is largely a matter of choice. And even then, it's only a choice if you can afford all of the trappings of that world.

June 9, 2022, 4:41 PM · I really like the Oberlin program, and all the kids we know there are super happy. It's top of the list for my younger kid, regardless of whether she ends up going into music or not. They have all sorts of unique programs like a 5-year performance + conducting undergrad degree (unheard of anywhere else in the US). I don't think it is the best fit for my son, but it is definitely one of the better dual-degree ones out there.

The ones at Northwestern and Rice are hard to do. 5 years with little support in coordinating the two programs. Stan, I think we both know the same Harvard/NEC student, and while that program is great, I don't think you end up getting a true conservatory experience. Ditto with the Columbia-Juilliard program -- you are mostly a Columbia student with a little Juilliard thrown in on the side.

Cleveland Institute of Music has talked up their relationship with Case Western quite a bit in the admissions sessions we have been to. I don't know anybody who has actually done a dual degree there, so I don't know how it is, but it is available. CIM students do routinely use Case Western -- they eat at their cafeterias, have access to their facilities, and take their music history classes and electives through Case Western.

Yale is definitely a good option, though they often restrict the best teachers for grad students.

June 9, 2022, 10:29 PM · Every school has a culture that will suit some students and not suit others. Eastman is not unique in this regard.

Double degree students at Oberlin are definitely not second class citizens. Good grief, Jeremy Denk (famous pianist and frequent collaborator with Joshua Bell) got a chemistry degree there along with his piano performance degree. It was certainly my experience that those of us who were double degree identified far more with the conservatory than with college; we took the classes for our other major in the college but our friends were mostly in the conservatory and most of our time was spent there.

June 9, 2022, 10:32 PM · Paul, what I meant was I had a very idyllic early childhood. My fondest memories are picking up berries with friends and playing in the wheat field during the harvest season. My recollections are probably rather romanticized but I think there is something to be said about growing up in a rural environment. I wouldn't trade my childhood experiences with my daughter's urban upbringing. I don't think my parents did it by design but it's probably the best gift my parents have given me.

Now as for my daughter's hothouse situation...We certainly cannot afford private coaching fees on top of her tuition and music lessons. She's not really into sports so we didn't participate in the athletic scene. We're trying to avoid all the drama that comes with orchestra seating by making her play viola in the school orchestra. We do what we can to benefit from the opportunities without getting caught up in the competition.

Edited: June 9, 2022, 10:59 PM · It's rather common knowledge that Columbia and Harvard are fine institutions. What of Oberlin and Case? Well, Oberlin's chemistry program was mentioned -- and I want to point out that Oberlin has a truly excellent chemistry program. I teach university chemistry and I know the good undergrad places. Case Western, likewise, is a fantastic place to study polymer science. A young woman from my town studied there. She's actually a violinist, too (that's why I know her), but she did not do the dual program with CIM. Last I heard she was finishing up her PhD.

Chemistry and polymer science would be difficult programs to carry together with a performance degree. Yes, Jeremy Denk apparently did it, but I would consider him special. On the other hand, your child may be special too! With chemistry at Oberlin and polymer science at CWRU, one advantage is that you're in one of their most highly valued "flagship" programs with absolutely top-notch professors, great labs, money to spend on research, respect across the institution, and a great deal of attention and advising provided to students to ensure success. If you want to double in chemistry and violin performance, I believe the chance of success will be much higher at Oberlin than it would be at a place like Indiana or Michigan or Northwestern or Southern Cal -- all places with great chemistry departments.

June 10, 2022, 12:13 AM · I have a childhood friend who did CIM/CWRU in the most brutal fashion possible -- performance + bioengineering. Took him 5 years. He worked as an engineer for a bit, went back for an MM, and went on to win a significant orchestra audition and eventually took a full-time professorship after a few years.

I have an acquaintance doing CIM/CWRU now who seemed quite happy with it. Smart, well-rounded kid, a violinist who switched to viola just in time to audition, I believe.

I personally think that in the major metro areas -- not just in the US but increasingly in Europe as well -- the tendency to hyperspecialize kids rather young is commonplace. And children often carry two or more such hyperspecializations plus some other extracurriculars to appear "well-rounded" as well as deep.

June 10, 2022, 5:31 AM · Paul, thanks, chem/biochem is a potential major for my daughter...enjoyed AP chem and has requested IB chem next year, specifically to make up for the missing lab time over the pandemic. I've also encouraged taking the 5-6 comp sci classes for a minor because she's good at it and because you can easily make good money with it when music isn't paying the bills :-).

Will look more at CIM and Case.

Edited: June 10, 2022, 5:48 AM · Other places that have some good things going in a music school and the arts&sciences end might be Rice, Michigan, and Northwestern. Which is not to say the links are well supported.

Harvard, in a somewhat different situation, likes to make it hard to cross-register between schools by staggering academic calendars. If you are in business hoping to take courses in law, arts & sciences, or the Kennedy School, you may find that hard. Yale, by contrast, sees the multiplicity of grad schools as a strength to be exploited.

June 10, 2022, 9:15 AM · Rice has a strong chemistry department too, but I'm less familiar with it than I am with Michigan (where my wife was a postdoc) and Northwestern (where I was a postdoc and my wife got her PhD) and Indiana (less obvious connection). Departments that award PhDs will often have particular research focus areas that are better known. One advantage of the smaller school is that basic logistics -- getting from here to there, or signing up to see your advisor -- are just a lot easier. That can be stressful when your class schedule is packed like sardines in a can and the music department is half a mile from the chemistry department, like it is at Virginia Tech, where I teach. I attended Hope College in Michigan and that was one of the joys of the smaller place. One of the drawbacks is that research opportunities are more limited, but my guess is that a chem-violin double major isn't going to be piling on a lot of research hours. A standout place like Oberlin will have easily enough opportunity to prepare students for grad school, med school, etc.

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