Myth: It’s important to launch your college career immediately after graduation from high school.
Not true! In fact, a growing body of research in adolescent brain development offers clues as to why so many students get off to a rough start their first year in college, and why colleges see their highest attrition numbers (students who drop or stop-out) during or just after the first year of enrollment.
Now we are coming to understand that from a developmental perspective, high school seniors and college freshmen are better understood as late adolescents rather than as young adults. Neuroscientists have discovered that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain continues to develop in critically important ways until the age of 23 in some individuals. This section of the brain handles judgment, planning, and connections with other parts of the brain involved in learning, sensation seeking and emotion.
While some students may be farther along in the brain development process, and some are successful due to habits they’ve acquired such discipline and deferment of pleasure, others get themselves into trouble with poor judgment and impulsive actions. No doubt this is why a number of colleges promote the notion of a Gap Year, where students work, travel or engage in volunteer work for a year prior to starting college. This more graduated transition helps many be more “ready” to balance the rigors and pressures of colleges with the independence it affords.
How to judge readiness for college?? A frank conversation between students and parents regarding the student’s track record in the last year with responsibility, multi-tasking and autonomy should identify if there are deficits. If the student seems to have struggled, or doesn’t feel 100% ready to be on her/his own, a deferred start may provide just the seasoning that makes all the difference.
Lisa Ransdell, Ph.D.
Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC