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To Gap, Or Not To Gap: Is a Gap Year Right for You?

I’m not talking about a year of ill-fitting jeans or a part-time job selling cotton tanks and cargo pants. I am referring to taking a year “off” between high school and college. The gap year, as it is affectionately termed, is nothing new to Europeans and Australians. Students began taking a year off from academics to pursue travel and volunteering as early as the 1960s. Throughout the last four decades, interest has continued to grow, and more and more companies have emerged offering Gap Year guidance and planning.

Traditionally popular and culturally acceptable in the UK and Australia, gap years continue to be of great interest to Google users in these countries. However, as you can see in the chart below, the US and Canada are starting to show some interest in this post-high school  possibility as well.

Web Search Interest for "gap year" in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia, 2004 to present

Even though US interest in gap year searches looks slim in the above chart, below you can see a growing interest over the past 5 years. Google also predicts that search interest will hit the ceiling next year.

I know that Google Search results do not correlate 100% to actual interest or the number of students who do end up taking a gap year. But, since I haven’t been able to find hard statistics (feel free to add them to the comments if you run across some), I thought these graphs would do a good job at least illustrating a trend. In short, if you are considering a gap year, you are not alone.

Now that we all agree that gap years are not completely unheard of in our neck of the woods, let’s discuss them in further detail. A fantastic article at Collegeconfidential.com discusses the pros and cons of taking a year off between high school and college. In short, the article and the college admissions counselors I have talked with all agree that if you plan on taking a gap  year, make sure you have a plan. You don’t want to spend a year off aimlessly wondering through life like a zombie while your friends are living the college dream. There are many companies out there that offer organized programs for students taking time off. A quick Google Search led me to the following programs, though I have never worked with them before. We do not explicitly recommend any of these companies, just consider them a jumping off point for your research.

Popular reasons for taking a gap year include traveling, interning and volunteering. Traveling is a traditionally popular gap year activity and can help students broaden their horizons and learn to interact with many different kinds of people. Trying out an internship during your gap year can help you focus your educational goals, either by reinforcing an earlier career decision or helping you see that you are better suited to other pursuits. Volunteering for organizations like City Year and Americorps can help you grow and mature while learning valuable leadership skills. City Year and Americorps may also offer stipends to help with your living expenses during your service and educational awards to put toward a college degree.

Regardless of your reasons and plans for a gap year, one thing college admissions counselors kept repeating: make sure you’ve been accepted to a college first and ask for a deferment. Some students may think a gap year will add to the appeal of their application to universities. It might. But, also remember that once you have graduated from high school you will have very limited access to your high school guidance counselors and teachers. This can potentially make obtaining transcripts and recommendations difficult. Also, you don’t want to spend your gap year worrying about applications, you’ll want to focus on your enrichment. If you are interested in the taking a gap year, I suggest discussing the options not only with your parents and high school counselors, but also with admissions counselors at the schools where you are applying.


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  • C. Sparks

    My son was determined that he would loose momentum from high school and thought a gap year would be a bad idea. Now that he has completed his freshman year at college, he says he wished he had done the gap year. He needed a year on his own to learn the element of independent living skills that he couldn’t really acquire while living at home. He also was tired of the intense study from high school and didn’t do as well as he could jumping into intense study at college straight away.

    The adults I’ve talked to who did even a summer experience away from home before starting college have also said it was an invaluable experience, so I think the idea of a truly planned gap year is excellent. I will more strongly encourage my daughter to do it when time comes. She is interested in working with Cross Cultural Solutions, an organization that does work similar to the Peace Corps but for short term commitments and with programs for teens.

  • I think peoples interests in taking a gap year in the states would be more healthy if people could gain credit for some of their gap year activities.