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Common Gap Semester Questions

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About ARCC Gap

What is a Gap Year?

The concept of a Gap Year originated in the United Kingdom during the 1960s and has since become quite popular in the U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It refers to time taken off between the end of high school and before entering college, time typically spent working or volunteering abroad. In the last few years the popularity of taking a Gap Year has risen sharply in the United States and for good reason; as college becomes the norm for an ever-increasing number of high school graduates, these students and their parents are realizing the importance of experiences outside the insular culture of often highly competitive schools.

A Gap Year gives students a broader outlook on life, helping put their education in perspective and positively shaping the way they approach college. Students have the opportunity to break out of their shell, be challenged by the world around them, and learn to be critical thinkers. A Gap Program gives students a chance to explore their interests in an educational setting away from the pressures of school, while building character and giving back to the world in a meaningful way. Many colleges offer a deferment option for those taking a Gap Year.

Why an ARCC Gap Semester?

An ARCC Gap semester is an extraordinary experience. An ARCC Gap Semester offers a unique blend of experiential education in the field, deeply meaningful service work in partnership with local communities, authentic cultural exposure and rich immersion, a progressive leadership curriculum designed towards personal growth and maturation, and incredible adventure in some of the most fascinating places on Earth. ARCC’s years of field experience in every corner of the globe have given us a unique perspective on service-learning. For 35 years, ARCC has built personal relationships in the communities we visit, facilitating our students’ experience by getting off the beaten path and providing a truly authentic immersion experience.

Is an ARCC Gap Semester right for me?

Students choose to enroll in Gap Semester programs for a variety of reasons. If any or all of the following ring true to you, ARCC could be a great fit for your Gap Year!

  • Many have deferred college, but want to explore various interests and passions before committing to a major.
  • Others are exhausted after four intense years of high school and know they will benefit from a recharge before starting all over again in college.
  • Some have applied to their top schools, but didn’t get in, so are using their Gap Year to gain more experience and set themselves apart from their peers before reapplying for the following year.
  • Yet others feel they are too young to start college right away and deal with all the pressures associated with being a college freshman. They (or their parents) know they could use some maturation.
  • Still others — often those interested in art, music or theater — may be wondering if the conventional college route is even right for them and want to head off to do something exciting in the Fall before diving directly into their field of interest.
  • Some have spent 1-3 semesters at college already, and are considering a transfer or want to get hands-on practical experience before finishing their studies.

A Gap Semester is a wonderful option for any student facing these situations or asking these questions of themselves.

How do I know which program is best for me?

ARCC programs are carefully designed to offer a variety for everyone. All programs allow students to participate in meaningful service projects in incredible locations throughout the world and include a variety of adventure activities that allow students to explore new cultures and get off the beaten path: an integral part of the semester. ARCC programs also provide the unique opportunity to immerse students in small communities, creating deep cultural connections.

Probably the easiest way to help you select the right semester is to give us a call and we can narrow things down for you. Questions like: Do you like animals? Are you looking for a more or less rustic experience? Do you want to speak Spanish? will quickly help us narrow programs down for you.

What do colleges think of Gap Programs?

Many students and parents fear that taking time off between high school and college puts them at a disadvantage when applying to college. In truth, many colleges look favorably upon this decision, seeing it as a sign that students are taking their education seriously and not just following an expected path. For example, Princeton University has actively been promoting the Gap experience through their Bridge Year Program and Middlebury suggests students take a Fall Gap Semester before starting at Middlebury as “Febs” in February.

Colleges recognize that a Gap Program allows students time to reflect on their future goals, both educational and otherwise, and provides them with the chance to explore a variety of interests. Students enter or return to college more focused and sure of themselves.

Most colleges offer a deferment option for admitted students taking a Gap Year.

See our Why Gap section for more information.

Do I need previous experience?

Most ARCC programs are perfectly appropriate for students who have little or no experience. Throughout the program, your instructors will help you with the basics so that you feel comfortable with all the activities. We can teach you anything you need to know. For certain activities, such as rafting or SCUBA diving, we have additional guides to help with instruction.

What are the age requirements for the ARCC Gap Semester?

To be eligible, students must have graduated from high school and have completed no more than one and a half years of college. Typically our students range in age from 17 to 20 years old.

Can I participate if I’ve started college?

Yes. ARCC Gap Programs are for students between 17-20 years old. It is not uncommon for students who have done one to three semesters to join ARCC on a Gap Semester.

Can I participate if I’m under 18 years old?

Yes, ARCC Gap is for students between 17-20 years old. As long as you’ve completed high school you are eligible for an ARCC Gap Semester.

Where do ARCC students come from? Is your program for U.S. students only?

ARCC Gap students come from all over the U.S., and sometimes farther afield. ARCC gladly accepts international students. That being said, the majority of ARCC students tend to come from the US. If you’d like to speak with a student from your area, let us know and we will be happy to send along references.

How many students are in each group? How about Instructors?

Each group is made up of 8 – 12 students between 17-20 years old.

Each ARCC Gap program of 8-12 students has one male and one female instructor. In addition to these instructors, we also enlist local guides and expert partners for the service and educational programs and for our adventure activities such as rafting, surfing, sailing and SCUBA diving to ensure the highest level of safety and instruction.

Who are ARCC Gap Instructors and what qualifications do they have?

ARCC Gap Instructors are exceptional educators with the experience to ensure safe and quality programming. They are generally chosen from the best of ARCC’s Summer staff and have the maturity, teaching ability and endurance to keep the program on track and their students motivated for 90 days.Their backgrounds may range from service with the Peace Corps, to teaching full time in a high school, to a graduate degree in international development, to an extensive resume of leading international programs. All of our instructors have one shared commonality: an enthusiastic character with a love for teaching young people about global issues.

Every ARCC Gap Instructor participates in ARCC’s comprehensive 8-day summer Staff Training, as well as ARCC’s 6-day Gap specific Training. In addition, all ARCC Gap Instructors are required to complete a Wilderness First Responder certification, which is an 80 hour advanced medical training course just below an EMT certification. This certification is beyond the industry standards.

Our leaders are outstanding individuals who are committed to providing an unforgettable semester that enriches their students on a daily basis. ARCC instructors inspire, motivate, mentor and set a positive example that lasts far beyond the end of each student’s Gap experience. We are proud of the fact that they are conscientious, caring adults with a sense of humor and an ability to teach.

Can I attend an ARCC Semester with a friend?

A major component of ARCC programs is the group experience, so we generally encourage students to attend independently. However, attending with a friend is permitted with the understanding that exclusive behavior is not permitted. If you do attend with a friend, instructors will encourage you both to interact with the entire group and not just with each other. You may start the program in separate sleeping arrangements or separate cook crews. This is done with the intention of building a positive group dynamic in which everyone feels welcomed and included.

Can I speak with ARCC alumni students or their parents?

Absolutely! We are happy to give you contact information of people who have done ARCC programs in the past. Please call our office and we can provide you with as many references as you’d like. Close to 100% of all ARCC participants volunteer to serve as references following their program.

Can I attend more than one semester with ARCC?

Yes! ARCC offers Semester programs in the Fall and Spring Semesters and we love having alumni students on our programs!

Do I apply for college and ARCC at the same time?

We recommend that you apply to colleges during your senior year while you have all the resources on hand (guidance counselors, SAT prep assistance, your friends are all doing it, etc), and then defer acceptance.

That being said, some students wish to apply/reapply during their Gap Year. We are happy to assist here, though advanced planning is strongly recommended to ensure materials and letters of recommendation are completed on time. Please note that internet will not always be available while on an ARCC program. Students have found that highlighting their ARCC experience can greatly improve their college application.

What is ARCC’s drug and alcohol policy?

ARCC does not tolerate the possession or use of illegal drugs or alcohol. If a participant is found possessing the above, or engaging in one of these activities, he/she will be sent home immediately at the expense of the parent/guardian. In such an event, no refunds will be granted.

Is it okay if I smoke cigarettes on a semester?

Students who enroll in an ARCC semester who currently smoke cigarettes will be required to adhere to ARCC’s smoking etiquette as outlined below:

    • Students are not permitted to smoke during ARCC activities (service projects, adventure activities, group meetings, etc.)
    • If a student smokes, it is only done on his/her own: not in front of the group or with another student, a homestay, or any other situation that could be deemed inappropriate
    • If smoking becomes a problem (being late due to smoking, smoking in group settings, etc.), ARCC instructors will revisit the policy with the student. If the problem persists, more serious consequences will follow, which may include a student getting sent home.

* Please note that students under the age of 18 are not permitted to smoke.

* Please also note that at NO time is the smoking of marijuana permitted. Marijuana is considered a drug and a violation of this rule will get a student sent home.

Safety

How does ARCC help ensure the safety of program participants?

It should be no surprise that safety of our students is the primary concern of our office staff,our field staff and our partners around the world. As a result, ARCC has an unparalleled safety record and we are proud to be able to state that in 35 years of existance, ARCC has never had a serious injury and no student has even suffered an injury requiring an overnight hospital stay. We attribute this to the maturity and training of our instructors, our trip supervision and the safety protocols that ARCC puts in place on all our programs.

If there are any specific safety concerns that you have, please don’t hesitate to call our office with questions.

What happens if a student becomes sick or is injured?

ARCC has protocols in place to deal with almost any medical situation or emergency. ARCC has pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons and infectious disease specialists on standby to assist families should the need arise. Any medical condition requiring a visit to a clinic or hospital will prompt Instructor communication with both the ARCC office and with a family member back home. Most often this is simply to notify the family that a son or daughter doesn’t feel well and is going to the clinic. Parents can get as involved as much as they wish in the care of the student. Sometimes parents want to speak with doctors about the situation. At other times, parents will leave the situation to be handled in country by the instructors.

ARCC’s communication protocol in all medical or emergency situations is comprehensive and thorough. Even a clinic visit for something as basic as “traveler’s stomach” will result in multiple phone calls between the instructor, the office and the student’s family. ARCC’s philosophy on something of this nature is “you can never communicate too much.”

Does your staff complete any special training before the programs start?

The minimum training standards we set for our program leaders are among the highest in the industry. ARCC leaders go through an intensive training regimen before leading a program for ARCC. At a minimum, EVERY leader must complete a rigorous ten-day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training course, which is an 80-hour medical certification. Many choose to go through an additional 20-day course to receive their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. All leaders are also required to attend ARCC’s eight-day intensive Staff Training which focuses on safety, group dynamics, logistics, communications, protocols and emergency procedures, as well as ARCC’s six-day Gap Prep Training.

How do you assess the political safety of a country?

We enroll each of our students in the US State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides the latest updates and information pertinent to the places the students are traveling, including travel warnings and alerts. This service is put together by consular officers around the world, and is a valuable resource in terms of information and added support.

In addition to regular reports that we get from the U.S. Department of State, we work closely with our in-country partners: the people with whom we work to set up our programs, as well as our current instructors. Because our groups are small (no larger than 12) and because we staff our programs with professionals who bring considerable in-country knowledge, we maintain a great degree of flexibility. We can easily change an itinerary at a moment’s notice, and we always maintain back-up plans and additional itinerary options.

How To Apply

I’ve picked a program! How do I enroll?

In order to officially hold a place on a semester, you will need to complete our online application and submit an $800 deposit. The application can be found on our website by clicking the red “Enroll Now” button on the top right of this screen. This will take you to an online application.

Once we receive your online application, we will contact you to answer any last minute questions and to secure an $800 deposit. This deposit is essential to holding the space. If we don’t have a deposit held by credit card or check, then please don’t consider the space reserved. We accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express over the phone or you can send in a check for the $800 deposit.

Upon receipt of your application and deposit, you will receive the detailed application and two required reference forms via email. This is the third step in the application process and these application materials must be completed within 3 weeks of enrollment. Once your Gap Director has received all of your application forms, s/he will follow up to set up to schedule either a face to face or Skype interview.

Within two weeks of your interview you will be informed as to whether or not you have been accepted into the ARCC Gap Semester program.

What if my first choice of program is not available?

There is a chance that your first choice semester will already be full. We have a waitlist for all programs. Many students sign up for their second choice program and put their name on a waitlist for their first choice. If a space opens up on your first choice of program, we will contact you to see if you would like to move to this semester. If you do decide to move, the program deposit and any tuition paid are transferable between programs.

Who gets accepted to the program? Do you take all applicants?

We do not accept everyone who applies. Our application process enables us to get a feel for students to see if they are the right fit for an ARCC Gap Semester.

An ARCC Gap group is typically made up of students who desire to be of service and volunteer while traveling; are excited about participating in a group experience – living, learning and growing together; are looking forward to pushing themselves educationally and are ready to meet the challenges that will ask them to step outside of their comfort zones; are flexible and open to a variety of people, places, cultures and experiences; have chosen to take a Gap year on their own and are playing an active role in planning their year.

These are just a few characteristics that we see in our students. Excitement, an open mind and a positive attitude are a wonderful starting block.

Please note, our program is NOT a therapeutic one, nor is it a program for adjudicated youth. Students experiencing severe trauma, or managing otherwise significant medical issues are not likely good candidates as the rigors of traveling to the regions that ARCC visits can be intense even under the best circumstances.

Do you turn away students?

Our team works with each applicant to determine whether or not the student is right for ARCC and whether or not a student has chosen the right program for his or her needs. Students are also assessed for risk issues, and for their readiness to accept the challenges of the ARCC program. In some cases, ARCC might not be a good fit for a student, in which case we will advise a student to consider another program or reapply at a later date.

What is your cancellation policy?

Once a student has submitted the initial online application and $800 deposit, the student has three weeks to complete the detailed application and submit both references, after which his/her spot on the program is forfeited. $300 of the deposit is refundable before June 1st, after which point students are not eligible for a refund of any fees paid.

The remainder of tuition is due July 15, and is non-refundable after that date. Students and families who are concerned about a students’ ability to join the program are advised to purchase travel insurance.

Please note that the deposit is fully refundable in the event that the applicant is not accepted into our program.

Do I need to be fluent in the language of my chosen program before I apply?

No, ARCC does not require any previous language knowledge. That being said, if you do speak a language, there will be countless chances to use your knowledge in country. Often those who have some language background become the defacto translators for other students who don’t speak the language.

Our Semesters in Latin America (Latin America and Patagonia/Cuba) have a week of language school at the beginning of the semester to give students some basic language skills. If students have Spanish background, they can take intermediate or advanced classes.

Before You Leave

How will ARCC prepare me for my program?

Once you have enrolled in an ARCC Semester, your Gap Director (GD) will contact you with an introduction email along with their contact information. They will be in touch with you from your enrollment until you finish with your semester. Along the way they will send you information about your semester, interesting tidbits about your destination, a Gap Handbook, and will be your “go to” person if you have questions or concerns before, during or after your semester. While your GD is your primary contact in the ARCC office, any one of our staff members is available to help you at anytime.

In addition to receiving an introduction from your Gap Director, you will also receive information on how to access your online portal where all of your forms and paperwork live. On the portal, we provide you with a number of resources to help get you ready for your semester.

To further prepare you, ARCC will also be hosting a pre-semester webinar which will address many of your questions about your specific semester. This webinar will only be for people attending your specific program and will address issues such as How does travel work? How do I pack my pack? How much money should I bring? What type of adapter plug to I need for electronics?….plus many other questions. This webinar generally takes place 3-4 weeks prior to departure.

As you get closer to your program’s departure, you will undoubtedly have many questions. All you need to do is give us a call to have them answered.

What if I have never traveled alone before?

For some ARCC students, this is the first time they have taken flights without friends or family. We know it can be stressful and we are here to make sure that your travel day goes as smoothly as possible.

For nervous flyers, it is possible that there will be another ARCC student on your flight to meet your semester, especially if you are coming from a major city. If you would like to coordinate travel plans with other ARCC students, please call our office and we can let you know if there are other students coming from your area on travel day.

How does air travel work?

All ARCC programs have have a “gateway city” where the group meets on the first day of the program and where students depart from on the last day of the program. For Gap programs, the gateway city is San Francisco. You are responsible for getting to and from San Francisco. At the start of the program, ARCC instructors meet all students at a convenient meeting location (typically baggage claim) in the gateway city’s airport.

After the Gap orientation in California, all Gap groups fly together with instructors to their program’s initial destination. At the end of the program, the group will fly together to the gateway city where the leaders will assist the students with checking in and getting to connecting airlines heading home.

ARCC will reserve seats on the group flight and will invoice the family for the cost of the group ticket.

Do I need a passport or a visa?

Yes, all students traveling internationally are required to have a valid passport. Please make sure the passport expiration date is at least six months after your travel ends. If you do not already have a passport, you should apply for one as soon as possible. It normally takes six weeks to process a passport application.

There are certain ARCC semesters that require visas. ARCC will provide all of the necessary information to get any visas. If you hold a passport from any country other than the United States, please contact ARCC to discuss visa requirements.

Do I need any special innoculations for international programs?

Every ARCC destination has different recommendations for innoculations. These recommendations generally match those of the Centers for Disease Control. Some countries require specific vaccinations for entry. In these situations, you will need to show proof of vaccination.

Upon enrollment, you will receive more complete information on pertinent travel vaccinations and immunizations. We recommend that you speak with your doctor (or local travel clinic) to decide what medications to take. The Traveler Health section of the Centers for Disease Control website provides up-to-date health information.

Do you recommend a specific brand of backpack or duffel?

Although you will not be doing traditional backpacking on your program, it is important that you bring a backpack or a duffel as your main piece of luggage. Backpacks and duffels come in all sorts of brands, models, and designs. We don’t recommend a specific brand or model, but rather encourage students to spend time trying on a few different types. If you have more specific questions about your pack or about shopping for the right pack, please call our office. As you will be hauling and dragging your bag in and out of vehicles and up and down cobbled or dirt streets, it is important to come on your program with a pack that has comfortable shoulder straps and is big enough to hold all of your belongings.

Do I really need all the items on the packing list?

Our packing lists are fine-tuned each year based on suggestions from students and instructors. Although the list may seem long, each item on the list is there for a reason. We ask that students follow the list as closely as possible when packing for their programs. Please refrain from the temptation of packing extra items as you will most likely just be lugging these unused items for your entire program.If you have questions about specific items, or would like to know why a certain item is on the list, please call our office and we’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

How much spending money should I bring on my ARCC program?

All activities, lodging, and meals are included in your tuition. You will have the chance to buy souvenirs, post cards, and gifts for friends and family at various times during the program. You may also need money for unexpected expenses like a clinic visit or lost equipment. We suggest bringing $50 per week for international programs. Hopefully most of that comes home at the end of the semester, but that will depend on your spending habits.

Will I get to talk to my instructors before the program begins?

Your instructors will call you as they are prepping for your program, usually just prior to the semester departure. The purpose of this phone call is to reduce any last minute jitters and to answer any questions you may have before the start of your semester. This is also a great opportunity for parents to ask the instructors any questions they might have as well.

Will I get to talk to my groupmates before the program begins?

No. ARCC finds that a group is most successful when everyone meets on day one for the first time. This prevents students from forming opinions of each other, often via social media, or befriending some peers closely, while others who may not be close geographically might feel left out. That being said, we’re always happy to tell you about your group, where students come from, etc. in advance.

During Your Program

What does a typical service day look like?

Service days can often be long and challenging. The specific service projects that each group works on during a program depends on the immediate needs of the communities. Possibilities include: teaching English to local schoolchildren; shadowing doctors in a clinic; building solar panels or water filters, construction improvements to community buildings or schools; working with animals such as elephants, rhinos, or sea turtles; or environmental education and coastal clean-up. Typically groups will do most of their service work in the morning and have their afternoons available for other activities, community exploration and any additional project work that needs to be completed.

What is communication like during the semester?

Communication during the Gap semester will vary depending on location. There will be times when cell coverage is very robust and times when it is non-existent.

Typically our students purchase an in-country cell phone, sometimes sharing a phone amongst a few students. Other students bring their own international phone from home. Communication with home is discretionary and according to the wishes of each student, though each group will come up with a technology policy of its own regarding use during the day, in communities, etc. Students will also have the option to visit an internet café once in a while to access the internet and to send emails home. Each group also maintains a semester blog that friends and family can check during their semester via the ARCC website.

What are the accommodations like on an ARCC program?

On most ARCC programs you spend the majority of your nights sleeping in small hotels, village lodges, hostels or in bungalows. During some service project segments, you might be in sleeping bags “slumber party style” on the floor of a guesthouse or the village community center. All of our Gap Semesters have two to four homestays where 2-3 students stay with local families for three to five nights. Some ARCC semesters spend their nights sleeping in tents in established campgrounds with toilets and showers. The quality of the lodging varies by program and by activity and, while it won’t usually be fancy, it will always be clean and safe.

What will transportation be like on my program?

ARCC itineraries are carefully selected so that an absolute minimum of time is spent traveling. That said, many programs travel to multiple locations and transportation to/from each desitination is part of the experience. We travel by bus, van, trains, planes, ferries and occasionally a smaller vehicle or boat to get to a more remote location. All transportation is delivered by trusted in-country partners using professional, vetted transportation services. In the United States for orientation, our Gap Instructors are trained specifically to drive the students in a 15-passenger van.

What is the food like on an ARCC program?

Food is a critical component of every ARCC program. As a result, we spend a great deal of time on food selection and preparation to ensure a delicious and well-balanced menu.The food varies from program to program, but on all programs students will have delicious, healthy and filling meals and a variety of snacks between meals.

When possible we strive for our students to be involved in the cooking process. Students are divided into cook groups which are then responsible for the selection, preparation and cleanup of the group’s meals. In many locations, group cooking is not an option. In these instances, groups will eat in restaurants, small hotels/guesthouses or in the local communities. The food we provide is selected with an emphasis on freshness and variety. We always make sure to have extra food to ensure that no one is hungry. Vegetarian and other diets can generally be accommodated.

What if I am a vegetarian or have dietary restrictions?

We can accommodate most special diets or restrictions if we are notified in advance. Please keep in mind, however, that the selection for vegans may be limited in some places. We are also able to make accommodations for most food allergies. Please contact us to discuss details.

Will we be able to shower and do laundry on our program?

Depending on the program, you will be able to shower either daily or every few of days.

We also schedule time for laundry stops during your program. Depending on the semester, you will either have the opportunity to do the laundry yourself or, when there are not laundromats available, we will send the laundry out to be done.

Can my family visit me during my program?

Due to the nature of our programs, it is generally not possible for students to meet friends or family during their semester. Many families, however, meet their students after the program and then travel together. Call us to discuss this option as it might have implications on group reservations.

Can my family meet me at the end of my ARCC program?

Yes. Each year families decide to meet up for family vacations in ARCC destinations. If you are a student on an international ARCC semester and would like to meet your family at the final destination rather than fly back to the U.S. with the ARCC group, this can be arranged through the ARCC office. Please call us to discuss arrangements.

Tuition, Scholarships & College Credit

Is airfare covered in the tuition cost?

No. Airfare is additional and the cost depends on the program. ARCC Gap programs begin with an orientation in San Francisco, after which students fly together to their international destination. ARCC books the international tickets as a group and families will be invoiced for the cost of the international airfare. Call us if you would like to know the most recent costs for these international flights.

Are there ‘hidden’ trip costs beyond tuition and airfare?

ARCC programs are meant to be “all inclusive,” meaning all food, lodging, transportation (with the exception of airfare and visas, if applicable), and activities are paid for with your semester tuition. Unlike other programs, ARCC will never say to you “For another $100, you can do the zipline.” Everything you read about in the your itinerary will be included in your semester. You will only need to bring spending money for things like souvenirs, unexpected emergencies, laundry, travel to orientation in San Francisco, etc.

Do you offer travel insurance?

Travel insurance is available to protect your program investment, offset expenses from travel mishaps and provide you with emergency travel assistance. Upon enrollment you will receive information about a special travel insurance policy chosen specifically for ARCC students through Travel Guard International. If you prefer to purchase your own travel insurance from a different provider that is fine.

Does ARCC offer financial aid?

Yes! Each year we give approximately $75,000 in financial aid to qualified students with need. Please know that aid is awarded based on need, program availability, and overall aid available. To receive a financial aid application, please write to the ARCC Gap at gap@arccprograms.com.

Can I get college credit for a Gap Semester?

Yes, in conjunction with Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) Office of Cooperative Education and Service Learning, students can receive up to 20 quarter credits for each Gap Semester. SCCC is accredited through the Northwestern Association of Schools and Colleges which is widely accepted throughout the country at both public universities and private institutions. We also encourage college students or those deferring their freshman year to speak with their colleges regarding credit. Click here to learn more about the college credit option.