Time well spent. Many students benefit from taking some time off. Faith Brigham, for instance, about to enter her junior year at Brandeis, was also disappointed at first by her midyear admission, especially when her friends started leaving for college. "When you are in that moment, you do feel left behind," she admits. But the North Carolina native decided to make the best of her gap semester, accepting a city government internship in Chicago, where she could live with her aunt and uncle. Brigham's experience—at one point, she was helping analyze workers' compensation claims—motivated her to hit the ground running once she did arrive on campus.
Taking a gap year or gap semester is also a way for students who were not accepted anywhere they wished to go to figure out what comes next. "We see a lot of different scenarios," says Gail Reardon, founder and director of Taking Off, a gap year consulting service, "but in the 16 years I've been doing this, every student who has come and said, 'No way am I ever going on to a particular school or any school again'—they always go on to further education." Just know that before you reapply to a college that rejected you, admissions officers will be looking for concrete signs of a more focused attitude or greater maturity, as evidenced by how you spent that time off. A year devoted to online video games won't cut it.
Never too late. "Seniors! These colleges are still accepting applications!" It was mid-March, and the sign, posted on Turner's door at her North Hollywood High School office in California, was attached to a three-page list of schools with rolling admissions and still-open deadlines. Among them were choices such as the University of Redlands, Clemson, and Loyola Marymount.
For some schools, late spring or early summer is not too late. In early May, NACAC's space availability survey lists schools reporting spots remaining for qualified applicants. It stays online until mid-August. This year, 295 had space available for first-year or transfer students; they included Guilford College in North Carolina, Arizona State University, and several state colleges in New York. "When you look at this, you realize there is always someplace else to go," says Hingle. The New England Board of Higher Education compiles a similar regional list. To follow up, call the school directly.
Two-year colleges. Two-year or community colleges typically offer open enrollment; as long as you meet their standard criteria, you can enroll. After one or more semesters, you can apply as a transfer student to a four-year college to complete your bachelor's degree.
"This is one of the most prominent trends we've seen," says Hawkins. It is driven in part by cost-conscious students: Tuition averages $2,361, compared with $6,185 for four-year public colleges and universities. In addition, many community colleges have transfer agreements with four-year colleges, arrangements that emerged to make sure that transfer credits would be recognized, says Mary Spilde, president of Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., and a board member of the American Association of Community Colleges.
Agreements differ from state to state—Lane, for example, has dual-enrollment programs with both the University of Oregon and Oregon State. "The earlier a student can identify the public university they want to transfer to, the better we can coordinate and advise them about what they need to do to make the transition as smooth as possible," Spilde says. That way, in terms of years, two plus two really does make four.
Transfers: Once More, With Gusto
What if you arrive at the college you thought you wanted, and once you're there it turns out not to be the fit you'd hoped for?
Ann Stouffer was excited about going to Boston University: big East Coast city, excellent business and management program. But the six-hour drive back to suburban Philadelphia seemed awfully long, and she missed being on a team—she'd played three sports throughout high school. She went home for winter break and thought it over.