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Excited about college but not quite ready to start? Each year, students across America are choosing to postpone their traditional academic plans and participate in a gap year experience.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is a year spent taking time off between life stages. An increasingly popular option, it provides time for traveling, volunteering, learning a new language, or experiencing any number of other activities for personal growth. Typically, students take a gap year after graduating from high school and before attending college.

Why Take a Gap Year?

While there are many compelling reasons to take a gap year, one of the most common is the opportunity for students to explore their interests and develop a purpose for their future. Students can take a break from intense coursework and focus on enriching life experiences.

Whether they spend the year traveling, volunteering, working, or all three, students who have completed a gap year are often revitalized for their return to the academic world the following year. According to David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, taking a gap year …could actually help students succeed in college, since participants may be more focused, mature, and motivated for their undergraduate experience.

Many students also find that their gap year allows them to help others. For students choosing to spend the year volunteering abroad, some of the benefits include:

  • Enlightening cultural exchange between the student and inhabitants of the host country
  • Making a real difference in the lives of the people of developing countries
  • The chance to make a positive impact on the environment.

Gap Year Options

There are no rules when it comes to taking a gap year, so the possibilities are truly endless. Luckily, there are organizations that specialize in helping students organize their adventures. For example, some companies assist with everything from finding a host family, to setting up the volunteer project, to taking care of meals and travel insurance.

Areas of focus students may choose from for their gap year activities include:

  • Animals
  • Archaeology
  • Business
  • Conservation
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Human Rights
  • Journalism
  • Sports

Things to Consider

As exciting as a year off before college may sound, there are several important issues to consider before embarking on a gap year.

  • Whether to individually design a program or use the resources of an established organization—The freedom and independence of a self-designed program may appeal to some, but turning to one of the experienced providers can help alleviate logistical and safety concerns.
  • Planning for college—Students who apply for college during their senior year of high school can defer enrollment for a year, so they'll already have their place secured and can easily start classes upon completing the gap year.
  • Students who weren't happy with the results of their college applications might choose to take a gap year to improve their test scores, develop a skill or reassess their list of target schools
  • Participating in a college bridge year program—While the gap year concept has only recently gained momentum in the United States, some colleges, including Princeton University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offer fellowship programs for incoming students to defer their start date and experience new opportunities abroad.
  • Thinking about goals—When planning your gap year, consider how taking this time to learn more about yourself and the world can help you grow as a person and prepare to take on further challenges. Going into the year with personal goals will help you stay focused and work toward success, both during your gap year and when you return.

Featured Program:

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad is one of the largest volunteer abroad organizations in the world. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad sends over 50,000 people abroad each year on a variety of service projects and internships overseas. All participants receive unparalleled in-country support from their full-time, professional staff to ensure that the experience is safe, worthwhile and fun. Destinations are available in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the South Pacific. Their Global Gap program takes gap year students to 5 countries around the world over the course of an academic year. Learn more or request a brochure online.