“Failure to Launch”: Increase in Popularity of Gap Year Programs

Additional year taken before college offers students time to increase GPA and test scores, play sports or simply gain confidence.

For seniors not ready to take the leap to independence that collegiate life brings, many are opting to take a postgraduate year following high school graduation, typically spent at a private school.  Nationwide both secondary schools and programs for teens are seeing increasing numbers of students looking for such opportunities. At the Hyde School, a leader in family-based character education with campuses in Bath, Maine and Woodstock, CT, the number of post-graduate students has more than doubled in the last five years.

“With our postgraduate program, Hyde provides a dynamic learning environment for those students who have the desire to not only achieve their goals and broaden the college acceptance list, but also to gain confidence, courage, character and, most importantly, the leadership skills they need to be successful in college and beyond,” said Hyde President Malcolm Gauld.

Jeff Black, a successful businessman and former CEO of a Fortune 1000 company, was among the earliest postgraduate students at Hyde more than 35 years ago.  “As worthwhile as a Hyde education is, it becomes even more valuable if one takes a postgrad year there,” Black comments.  “I knew that I wasn’t fully ready for college, and that additional year afforded me the maturity, confidence and skill sets that I was lacking. It was one of the best decisions of my life.”

Diederik van Renesse, an education consultant with Steinbrecher & Partners, based in Westport, CT, says he has seen requests for postgraduate programs, as well as other experiential programs commonly known as “gap years,” triple in the last five years.  He notes that this extra year allows a student to mature socially and/or academically, provides another year of academic preparedness and time to enhance study skills and time management, perhaps another year to strengthen athletic ability to pursue a sport in college.


As postgraduates, students will have already earned a high school diploma so will be making academic choices that will enhance their profile for college by filling in gaps on their transcript or taking some more advanced courses.  Hyde School works with each postgraduate student to develop an individualized plan that might include AP courses, electives in the arts, SAT prep, college counseling, hands-on leadership training, and internship opportunities.

Among the many Hyde success stories is Jared Jensen, a likable football player and wrestler from Brunswick, Maine who coasted unchallenged through high school and, as a result, lacked the passion or drive to pursue college. His postgrad year at the Bath campus has been the first time he was ever away from home but he threw himself into the challenge and found himself excelling academically for the first time.  “He saw himself as a student first and an athlete second,” his father, Erick, noted.  “In just a short time, the change in Jared was remarkable, and the bar for college has now been set much higher.”

Robert Ficarra, a Woodstock campus postgraduate student from Fairfield, CT, who was drawn to Hyde because of the school’s focus on character and academics, was also impressed by its college acceptance record.  In the past five years, Hyde graduates have been admitted to 25 of U.S. News & World Report’s Top 50 National Universities.  “A few of the schools I was looking at were on that list, so I knew I was spending my year wisely,” comments Ficarra.  A graduate of a large public school, Robert liked Hyde’s small class sizes and rigorous schedule and in just two months he has seen improvement in his grades, time management and leadership skills.  “My attitude and motivation to excel in school has never been more positive than it has been this postgraduate year,” he says.  “I was always focused solely on soccer and track and field, but now want to give it my all on the field as well as in the classroom.

Eliana Goldberg, from Henniker, New Hampshire, graduated from the Woodstock campus this year and decided to take a postgraduate year at Bath. “For me, this extra year is all about improving my grades, changing my study habits by overcoming my procrastination and becoming more of a leader.  I am fully committed to achieving all of my goals and will be that much more ready for college next year.”

Not all programs are geared to academic achievement. Christopher Mays co-founded Surf House Puerto Rico, a therapeutic program that specializes in what he terms as “failure to launch” clients. “We tend to focus on life skills, as well as academic skills,” says Mays.  “For kids who participate in postgraduate programs, the ultimate goal is to increase their chances of getting into a decent college.  Our end game may involve going to college, but it’s more about leaving the program with a marketable skill and a career path.

Mays notes that the “failure to launch” student population is not endemic just in the U.S., citing a similar problem in the U.K, where these young adults are referred to as “kippers” (Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings).