What’s The Gap Year All About?

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Photo Courtesy of Africa Asia Ventures

Another school year, another batch of high school seniors readying their college applications. But before you commit to four years of college, there is another option to consider: a Gap Year. You may have heard your college counselor mention a Gap Year in passing, or perhaps you heard about a classmate taking one a few years back. Gap Years are growing in popularity, but what exactly is a Gap Year and how do you know if it could be beneficial to you?

A Gap Year, or Bridge Year, is the British tradition of deferring college for a year in order to engage in experiential learning such as traveling, volunteering or interning.  Recently, the trend of taking a Gap Year has been gaining popularity stateside, with more and more young Americans opting to take a year out before college.  Colleges and universities are supporting this opportunity by making deferring school easier and in some cases, like Princeton, offering their own in-house Gap Year programs.  In many cases, a letter to your school of choice explaining your reasoning for taking a Gap Year is enough to secure your spot for the following school year.

How Does a Gap Year Benefit Me?

There are many benefits for a student taking a Gap Year.  Students often list the following as changes they see in themselves over the course of a year out:

  • Maturation, self-reliance and independence
  • Recovery from academic burnout / Renewal in eagerness to learn
  • Wider world view and global perspective
  • Discovery of interests and passions through firsthand experience
  • Curing the travel bug or the desire to “do some things” before they begin college
  • Learning or gaining proficiency in a foreign language
  • Real world experience before the college “bubble”
  • Avoiding the risk of first-year dropout by providing the opportunity to refocus priorities and gain maturity
How Do I Begin?

So let’s assume you are well suited for a Gap Year. “What now?” you may ask.  In short: communication and research.  Sit down with your parents and tell them why you want to take a Gap Year and how you might spend your time.  Making a list of personal goals for your Gap Year can also give you purpose and focus when searching for opportunities.

Next, you should look for reliable, structured volunteer or travel opportunities designed for young people.  Idealist.org and Americangap.org can be good resources for finding both domestic and international organizations. Be sure to research an organization carefully by personally speaking with the volunteer coordinator and asking for references.  This will give you peace of mind as well as improve your safety. You can also seek the help of guidance counselors or independent consultants who specialize in helping students and their families choose reputable gap year programs.

What About Costs?

Set a budget with your parents, keeping in mind students are usually asked to pay a fee for volunteering overseas with organized programs.  Be sure to factor in the extras like vaccinations, airfare, spending money and international health insurance.  Expect to contribute a certain portion of the budget; either through a summer job or fundraising. The cost of a Gap Year can vary widely but most run between $5,000-$20,000 depending on how and where you spend your time.

Planning a Gap Year takes time and effort, but the payoff is always worth it. You will arrive at college matured from a year of unique adventures and ready to take full advantage of your college years!