Taking a Gap Year

With the May 1 deadline for enrollment deposits rapidly approaching, many high school seniors are making final decisions about which college to attend in the fall. But after twelve years of school, some students are deciding they need a timeout.

Gap year has long been a tradition in Britain. Perhaps it’s because when students begin college there, they need to know exactly what they want to study. Since American students can spend the first two years of college trying different subjects before committing to a major, they can start college without clear goals.

In the United States, many students go straight to college after high school because that’s what is expected. But some of these students are not ready. They may lack academic focus, self-discipline or social skills, and could be at risk of depression, alcohol abuse or academic failure. Taking some time to develop academic and life skills or to explore possible careers can help a student feel more motivated and purposeful when he gets to college.

Gap year is becoming more common in the United States and is accepted by most colleges, which will defer a student’s admission for a year. Harvard actually recommends it in their acceptance letters. The University did a study which found that students who had taken a gap year earned higher grades during their freshman year than students who started at Harvard right after high school.

Students choose gap year for many reasons. A student who has been immersed in AP courses for the last few years may want a break from the academic treadmill. Spending a year traveling, doing a service project in another country, or even working at a job, can protect a student from academic burnout and allow her to begin college with a renewed interest and a mature perspective.

Another student, whose high school record is less than stellar, might be in a stronger position to apply to college after attending one of the post-graduate programs offered at a number of boarding schools.

For the student who questions the need for college, working can be a real motivator when it becomes clear that salary and job growth are limited without a college degree. A job may also help a student develop time management and social skills that will be useful in college.

For students who don’t need to earn money but want to explore career interests, a structured program like Dynamy may be the way to go. The program starts with a wilderness course, then places students in apartments and arranges three nine-week internships. Students also have the option of participating in a college credit seminar.

Another option is to get involved in a volunteer project. AmeriCorps, the domestic version of the Peace Corps, offers opportunities to mentor at-risk students, build homes, provide disaster relief and assist in community development.

Then there are the volunteer opportunities abroad, like coaching football for children in South Africa, teaching English in Russia or maintaining trails in the rainforest in Brazil. There are so many ways to make a difference in the world while at the same time gaining self-esteem and a new perspective.

While it’s not for everyone, for the right student, a gap year can be the best path to a successful college experience.

Success Stories

  • Megan S., West Hills
    "Audrey has been there to answer any questions, as well as guide me through the larger decisions. She never hesitated to research things on her own, and provided me with new outlooks on many questions I had. Her research helped me form a list of potential colleges, and eventually find the right fit. I felt confident throughout high school knowing that I had Audrey by my side."
Independent Educational Consultants Association


Higher Education Consultants Association

Higher Education Consultants Association