A gap year can be a terrific way to start your college years. All in all, there is a lot of upside, and not much downside to the idea of doing a gap year. Looking at just a few of these programs is likely to get your imagination soaring!
What is a Gap Year?
It is just what it sounds like – a gap between high school and college. Or, it can also be a gap between college and graduate or medical school.
Why Take a Gap Year?
There are almost as many reasons to take a gap year as there are things to do in a gap year. But the most common reason is because the student wants to use that time to explore, mature and experience something new. As an added bonus, it is an opportunity to recharge. Highly motivated students can sometimes be a bit burned out from taking AP and/or IB classes, studying for the SAT, doing volunteer work, keeping up with a sport, etc. A gap year allows the student to arrive at college ready to start studying again, and possibly with a better idea of what he or she wants to study.
What Do Colleges Think of a Gap Year?
They love it!
Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way: https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/preparing-college/should-i-take-time
Yale has one of the best databases I’ve seen with a long list of programs, and very valuable information about gap programs in general:
Many private colleges will allow students to defer for a year. So go ahead and apply to college as a high school senior and then, when you decide which school you want to attend, you can request a deferral. They will often want to know how you are going to spend your time.
What Can a Student Do on a Gap Year?
Many, many things.
Some students will line up a job, to work for the summer and through the fall, and then go on a Gap Semester experience. American Gap Association has data about the benefits of gap years as well as links to numerous gap year and gap semester programs. The advantage of working first and then going on the gap semester experience is that you can work to pay for your adventure (your parents will love you for it!)
But you don’t have to pay for a gap year experience, sometimes they will pay you!
Here are a few programs that will pay you a stipend while you are volunteering:
City Year volunteers work with public schools in high poverty communities.
For those who are looking for outdoor activities, there is the Student Conservation Organization, where students can explore green career opportunities, working as a park ranger, field scientist or urban planner.
And then there is Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, also known as WWOOF. You can spend a few days to 6 months working on an organic farm and living with a host family. Open the web page and click on the video to learn more. See a couple who spent time on 8 different farms and visited 9 different countries:
A new addition to the mix is Hippohelp which is a free map-based platform connecting hosts from all over the world with travelers who are happy to work in exchange for free food and accommodation.