Note: Article updated on 11/18/2014

What Is a Postgraduate?

I used the term "PG" (colloquial for postgraduate) with a friend of ours — a Mississippi public high school principal. He looked back at me perplexed "What's a PG?" I explained that a postgraduate or PG is a student who, for a myriad of reasons, has chosen to take an additional year of secondary school before moving into a collegiate environment.

Why?

A postgraduate year is not something for which family and student begin planning when their child is born. No one begins kindergarten saying "I'm going to move through primary and secondary school; then, I'm going to do a postgraduate year before I go to college."

Reasons and motivations for postgraduate experiences vary as much as the students themselves.

Chris Webb, Admission Director at Bridgton Academy, explains: "Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tell us that more than one half of the kids who start college don't finish, ever. The average time it takes to get a bachelor's degree is just over six-and-a half years. Only 32% of males graduate from college in four years."

Webb adds that there's often a disconnect between the kinds of skills that kids develop in high school and what they're expected to do when they get to college.

Students may elect a postgraduate experience as part of pursuing a particular college or university for which they found themselves unprepared after their traditional senior high school year.

Other students may have graduated from high school chronologically, or emotionally young, and these students and their families consider postgraduate experience in a desire to bolster a student's maturity.

Some students may need to shore up their academic and emotional foundations before moving into their collegiate experience. Junior college serves as the answer for many students needing more development. But for some, a postgraduate experience may provide the best pre-collegiate stepping stone.

Who Takes a Postgraduate Year- a sampling?

The highest profile postgraduate students are athletes working to achieve admission to a particular, or stronger, athletic program than they might have entered straight out of high school.

A focused course of study serves as the impetus for some postgraduate students. Bridgton Academy provides service academy preparation as an example of focus and purpose. Webb explains: "Each year, a group of young men attends Bridgton Academy as part of pursuing admission to a U.S. Service Academy."

"Academic growth shapes the pursuit of many post-graduates. Some postgraduates work to improve grades, take more advanced placement or actual college-level courses, or work toward admission to a more academically competitive college," Webb added.

Students from a large, institutional, high school setting may choose a PG year to develop academic skills such as critical reading and writing.

Special needs students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD), students on the Autism spectrum, or other learning differences may use a PG year to build their skills foundations.

A bump in the road such as an illness, injury, divorce, or, an untimely family death, may lead some students and families to consider a postgraduate year.

What Can Students Learn or Gain from a Postgraduate Year?

In three words, confidence, maturity, and time. Having chosen to invest extra time and effort in their education, postgraduates enter their PG year with a clarity of purpose: they invest themselves because they want to do well.

Confidence and maturity result from choosing to pursue the postgraduate year and successfully completing the experience. Time results from the decision to take the extra year and work through the college admission process in a more focused and purposeful manner.

Beyond personal growth, a PG year can open doors to college and post secondary programs that may previously have been beyond the student's reach.

How Colleges See a PG Year

A successful postgraduate experience can provide a degree of certainty and confirmation that a student may previously have lacked.

"Colleges know, in getting a postgraduate student that, he's been away from home; he's developed independence; he's been challenged academically, and has developed time management, study, and organizational skills. Chances are he will be less of an admission risk than a student coming straight out of high school," Bridgton's Webb explained.

Students in postgraduate programs also benefit from the smaller, more personalized college counseling offices of independent schools. Students live among, work with, and, often, are coached by, faculty who recommend them in the college application process.

Recommendations written with insight available only from living in the closely connected communities of prep schools often prove insightful, forceful, and effective.

What's It Like?

No two postgraduate programs are the same, but most begin with the common threads of a residential or boarding school experience coupled with a curriculum designed to improve and build the skills and abilities necessary for a successful collegiate experience.

Residentially, a postgraduate program will take a student away from home, give him, or her, a roommate, and allow some degree of autonomy about how he/she manages time. Within this communal living environment, students will learn and practice everything from community building to sharing personal space.

Some schools will have postgraduate student life much like that of a high school with little difference between 12th grade students and post-grads, while a postgraduate specific school, such as Bridgton Academy, offers a much more collegiate experience.

Trinity-Pawling School PG Keegan West shares some of his experiences:

At Trinity-Pawling, I have the opportunity to socialize with people from different countries, and backgrounds...I have gotten to know and interact with kids from around the country and around the world.
...I am getting a firsthand experience at what different cultures are like, and realizing just how vast our world truly is…
...in a short amount of time, [T-P] has allowed me to understand that I can never take anything for granted. Everything offered, not only at this school, but in life, is just another opportunity to become better as a student, a better athlete, and better person…"

Academics

All postgraduate programs work to build the academic skills needed for collegiate achievement. But this inclusive goal is nuanced from program to program. Academically strong schools will offer many advanced placement courses and, possibly, courses for collegiate credit, while some PG programs focus on fundamental skills.

Almost all postgraduate programs provide students with access to faculty and a closely knit academic community that can only be found in the smaller school setting of an independent school.

T-P's West observes his academic growth:

Coming into Trinity-Pawling, I knew that my day was going to be busy, ranging from classes, to athletics, to mandatory sit-down meals, to evening meetings and study sessions. It can take some time to adjust to.

At my public high school, I never had too many demands to meet. I had homework in challenging classes, and had athletic practices, but I never had a mandatory study hall, nor did I ever have to wear a coat and tie to class everyday.

The typical T-P day has forced me to manage my time to a whole new extent. Keeping a calendar to record specific events and assignments and avoiding distractions to make sure I can get my work done in an adequate amount of time has become an important part of my student life.

I feel like I am becoming academically stronger for a few reasons. Taking a tough schedule has forced me to make sure all of the time I spend on work is quality time. Having teachers that you can use whenever you need them has really given me the opportunity to become stronger on the subject I am learning. Third, at T-P, I am surrounded by students who all have a common goal. We are all here to succeed, whether academically or athletically.

Seeing people who are just as motivated as you and putting in the time to be the best motivates you to succeed no matter what and be as close to perfect as you can be."

Rethinking: Broadened Perspectives: Personal Growth

Exposure to new perspectives and new environments may bring about some changes in priorities and perspectives for a postgraduate student. As the students and their interactions influence each other, a postgraduate may think about making a geographical leap when choosing a college.

Some PG students may rethink the size of college that they want to attend. Potential college athletes may rethink or reaffirm their athletic/academic balance.

During his PG year, Bridgton Academy alumnus Anthony Sciaudone assessed his athletic abilities and what he wanted from a college:

I always had high aspirations of my athletic ability. The competition at Bridgton elevated tremendously. I had some initial success.

We faced pitchers going to places like Virginia Tech and Boston College. That put things into perspective for me. Maybe I'm not a Division I player but I can compete at the Division II or III level?

I also decided that I wanted a great sense of community. Bridgton is one big community and I learned I wanted a college that has a sense of community."

The Postgraduate Admission Process

No road map exists for finding or applying to post-graduate programs. Educational consultant Renee Goldberg of Educational Options suggests that students who are unsure about their plan beyond high school apply to both college and postgraduate programs.

Evaluate the student's position and make your decisions after visiting colleges and prep schools. The object, as a student, is to give yourself options while finding the best setting for your continuing growth.

Chris Webb of Bridgton Academy talks about the modern PG program school search:

How students conduct a 'search' has changed dramatically in the past several years. Go online to review various PG programs and their offerings. To get an idea of what student-life is like or to discover what is going on from day-to-day on campus, review any school-sponsored social media offerings - a school's Facebook page, Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, etc.

A word of caution, while online research can reveal some very helpful information, it will never capture the energy that exists on a campus. Go and visit so you can talk to other students, faculty, and staff. They are the lifeblood of an institution...and will provide you with the best sense of your 'fit' at that school."

Admission directors want a good fit between school and student more than anyone. If the fit isn't good, "We're happy to suggest other schools," Webb adds.

To find a school with a student and college profile similar to the one that you need, ask to look at the school's college acceptance list from the last few years. This provides the best indications of the type of student and quality of college guidance offered by each school.

When visiting a school, ask to speak with current post-graduate students. Then, ask the admission office for postgraduate parent references.

A Good Fit Between Student and School

Parents should work to make sure that a PG applicant's prospective school has the resources that fit the student's needs and goals. Signposts for a good fit include:

  • Knowing your student's strengths and weaknesses and openly communicating about them.
  • Be open about any previous bumps in the road - anything that affected the student's previous achievement - illness, divorce, learning difference, etc.
  • Does the school have enough postgraduates to provide a PG peer group?
  • Quality of academics: Does the student fit within the school's academic profile?
  • College counseling: Is it strong? Does it begin immediately?
  • Athletics and extracurriculars: Are student and school matched?
  • Does the school teach, or offer, any courses that provide college credits?
  • The goal is to make sure that the post-graduate applicant fits within the profile of the school's academic, social, and athletic lives.

Parental Expectations

The postgraduate year, while a great and little known tool, is exactly that, a tool. It is not a magic wand or elixir. Students and families must enter the potential of a PG year with eyes open and heads up.

Parents and students need to articulate their goals from the outset. Know the goals before the start; evaluate and study the goals, and make sure that they fit with what the school can provide and the student can achieve. Hidden and poorly articulated goals lead to negative experiences. Dream and work hard toward the PG year goals, but insure that they are realistic.

The cost is high, but don't let the cost prohibit the possibility of a PG before exploring the financial aid and financing options. The postgraduate year is an investment.

Expert Help Is Available

As with all school considerations and questions, if you're interested in greater expertise and a professional perspective, consider a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. To learn more about educational consulting and the services of educational consultants, visit www.iecaonline.com.

Acknowledgments: We appreciate interviews with the following in preparation of this article:

  • Chris Webb, Director of Admission and Financial Aid, Bridgton Academy, North Bridgton, ME
  • Renee Goldberg, Educational Options, Worcester, MA
  • Anthony Sciaudone, Bridgton Academy alumnus, Bridgton, ME
  • Keegan West, postgraduate student, Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY