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GAP Year Programs and College Admission

I was recently talking with a colleague about the merits of students taking a year off between high school and college to do something different, fulfilling, and fun. The GAP year has a long tradition in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Only recently have more American students begun to consider that the rush to complete the BA is more artificial than real.

Youth is the time of life to gain experience, to try new things, and to be unburdened by the responsibilities of marriage, parenting, and a mortgage. These experiences beyond any classroom can be formative; they can point students in possible career directions. Or young people can gain new skills, like learn a foreign language or do community organizing, that take considerable time and effort in concentrated periods. Even taking a year off to get a job and pull together some extra money for college can be enormously beneficial in building a young person’s confidence and independence.

So for any student who even hints at being interested in a GAP year, I encourage it. And I can also help students find an appropriate GAP year experience.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that both admissions officers and college counselors agree that it is better–much better–to apply to college while still in high school. Then if you plan to take a GAP year, you can defer your matriculation for a year without any difficulty at any college.

Colleges prefer this, mostly because they are making decisions primarily based on your high school performance, not on the nature of your GAP year experience. While colleges will value your experience and encourage you to pursue that GAP experience, your year off will not be a significant “plus” to your application. Furthermore, most GAP experiences will make it difficult for you to do the paperwork and maintain strong lines of communications with colleges and with your college counselors.

Thus applying to college in your senior year is not only smart, your foresight and planning will allow you to extract maximum benefit from your GAP year experience.

But what to do during your GAP year? What organizations offer programs that may interest you?

Below are a few resources and organizations that I have found useful in counseling students about GAP year programs.


Two highly regarded boarding schools have developed lists of GAP year programs for their students. These lists are available on the web.

The Andover GAP year directory (which includes summer opportunities, too)

The Hotchkiss GAP year directory

GAP Year Communities is a website based in the UK that provides information and resources to help you plan your own GAP year experience anywhere in the world. Where You Headed is a membership-based site that will help guide students as they explore their GAP year options.


GAP Year Programs

Finally, some organizations specializing in creating outstanding, specialized opportunities for young people who want to pursue a GAP year experience.

Americorps: Service in the United States, along the model of the Peace Corps

City Year: A year of structured service in urban environments

National Outdoor Leadership School: Wilderness training across the country

Semester at Sea: An around-the-world cruise aboard a ship that serves as the classroom between ports.

Leap Now: Overseas cultural and adventure travel.

Where There Be Dragons: Focus on adventure and cultural explorations of Asia

The opportunities for creating a fun and meaningful GAP year experience are limited only by your imagination. A GAP year does not have to cost an arm and a leg, either. Many students are able to cover their expenses, either by working for a portion of the year, or by including work as a part of the overall experience.

Thousands and thousands of Brits take a GAP year…even Prince William took a year off. So if he can do it, so can you. No matter what you end up doing, you will never regret that you took a year to do something different, something interesting, something exciting.

Mark Montgomery
College Counselor
Advocate of GAP Year Programs

Reader Interactions


  1. Hello,
    I am currently a IB dimploma graduate planning to go on a gap year programme in either Thailand or Australia. I would like to know if there are any set programmes available and if there are currently other individuals planning to do the same as me at this point in time. If i decide to go to Thailand I would like to engage in english teaching jobs in order to finance my travels.
    Thank you

  2. Hello, Jan.
    There are a number of set programs that can take you to Thailand, some of which may include some work experience–perhaps even English teaching. Financing your travels by English teaching, on the other hand, may require you to be more independent in setting up your Gap year experience. Plenty of Gappers will find jobs as they travel around the world. Keep in mind, however, that most serious English teaching jobs will require some sort of credential or previous experience–or at least a college degree. There are websites out there for ESL jobs around the world, and you might check out some of those. If you need money to finance your Gap year experience, you might want to consider working for a time at home to save money, and then spend that money on either a solo adventure or a set program in Thailand.
    Hope this helps!

  3. Dear , Sir / Madam

    I am from Nepal and have been working with International Volunteers since 1994 as a Volunteer trips Organizer / Volunteer Director / Nepali Language and Culture instructor etc. Now I am the Founder / Director of Real Nepal here in Nepal as well as I am the country Director for Real Gap and Frontier who is UK based Gap Year Company. In these 14 years I have placed more then 5000 overseas volunteers / Gap year student around Nepal and have made a good networking and relationship with many villagers and youth of the community. My staffs are much experienced and well known about the western culture and working system that is very important working with International volunteers. Volunteers have the opportunity to participate in a variety of educational and community aid programs. We provide Nepali Language, Culture and staying with host family training for foreign volunteers who wish to render their services to Nepal. We send trained volunteer to Orphanages, Children’s centers, schools and communities to generate awareness regarding environmental issue, orphans care, sanitation, income generating initiative, teaching English and health care. This will give you a chance to make an important contribution to the people of Nepal and whilst gaining an in depth experience of the country and its culture, which will stay with you the rest of your life.

    Our Nepal school expeditions are completely tailor-made to your requirements. We offer a wide range of activities and experiences that combine physical, intellectual, social and environmental challenges. They can include trekking, biodiversity research, Jungle Adventure, White water rafting, community work, snorkeling, and adventure & cultural activities We provide a unique opportunity for you to immerse yourself in the depth of Nepali culture and to work with local communities. Our volunteer Adventure program specially designed to address the educational, health and environmental needs of Nepali people. We ensure our volunteers are provided with a meaningful community experience with a wealth of adventure activities.

    We are looking for volunteers/students from your School/university/organization who can come to Nepal and help our people by teaching English, Awareness about Sanitation and the Environment, Cultural Exchange, and staffing orphanages, as well as many other social aspects. While REAL Nepal has only been operating for four years, we have already had over 700 volunteers and worked with over 2000 volunteers, and our staff has had 15 years of experience in working with the volunteers, including the US Peace Corp, UK SPW, GVN and other organizations.

    Many other short term (less than one year) volunteer programs are very expensive, with some approaching thousands of dollars. Real Nepal was formed specifically because many other programs were cost prohibitive, and we offer low rates and better facilities.

    We would like to request you to provide information about ERN to your potential Staffs / students / Volunteers who might be interested in our organization. Our website is .

    Our programs run throughout the year and are available to both School / University groups and individuals. Our expeditions are designed to enhance classroom learning with real-world experiences. They can incorporate a wide range of educational activities in the natural sciences, history, tourism, or social studies fields. Expeditions are designed to meet your educational curricula requirements; fit the dates and budget of your students; and satisfy parents and teachers needs with high safety standards. All chosen expedition locations are ideal for running challenging and safe conservation activities, offering opportunities for trekking, wildlife conservation and community projects. Your students will discover rich wildlife, gain a cultural understanding of tropical developing countries, and develop their expedition management and leadership skills.

    We also design programs as per your various interest and needs. We are very flexible in this regard.

    Real Nepal can offer students trekking in the Himalayas, white water rafting, jungle safaris and cultural family stays while helping the community most of which is included in the program fee. Nepal has a long rich history and there are no limits to the sights to be seen.

    We are also looking for a partner Organization / School / University who can help us providing volunteers.
    Hoping to hear from you soon,

    Thanking you in anticipation,

    Your Sincerely,
    Naresh Asim
    Real Nepal ,
    Z – Street – 16 Thamel,
    Kathmandu, Nepal
    Post Box No 19531
    Tel : 977 01 4700228
    Director’s Cell : +9779851054813
    Email :
    Personal Email

    Program Location
    The placements are available in Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara, Langtang, Solukhumbhu and Chitwan, all of which are near to the main city.

    Program Requirements

    Interested to learn and teach new culture
    Volunteers for this program must: be 17 years or older and must have no major health problems.
    We do not ask for any formal qualifications from our volunteers. All we ask is that you have a genuine desire to help people and are committed to seeing the programme through.

    The volunteer opportunities are in the following areas:

    a) Teaching English at our Village Recourse Centers

    The primary purpose of the Center is to offer community youth the opportunity to develop their English language skills and to give the young people a beneficial and positive way of spending their time rather than taking up drinking, smoking or gambling. Real Nepal’s Resource Centers offer English language instruction and cultural interaction to young people and adults in the community. Ultimately, the philosophy is that improved language skills will lead to employment, particularly in the Chitwan and Pokhara tourist areas as well have enormous advantage in any further education: English language is the medium for tertiary education in Nepal. Being able to consolidate classroom knowledge with a native or very good speaker of English is an enormous advantage in learning English and learning about cultures is also enriching and important.

    (B) Environmental Awareness
    Volunteers will teach environmental awareness at the local school and/or Environmental Post for 2 to 4 hours each day, Sunday through Friday. Environmental awareness projects will be defined by the individual volunteers based-upon their areas of expertise and the needs of the village community. Example projects include: creating “green” clubs, planting a flower garden, planting trees, garbage management, recycling programs making a smokeless stove, building a toilet pit, etc. Volunteers may also provide assist to youth clubs or women’s groups in the community sharing their ideas, skills and knowledge about environmental issues. After completing the Nepali language and cultural training, volunteers will be placed with a Nepali family in one of the program villages. The host family will live no more than one half hour from the school/Environmental Post Real Nepal local coordinator will be helping to volunteers..

    (C)Cultural Exchange & Home-stay Program
    Home-stays and cultural exchange programmes can be arranged in most areas of Nepal with our 55 Host-families. Participants will be placed with a Nepali family in a small rural village for the duration of their stay. This provides the volunteers with an excellent opportunity to learn about all aspects of Nepali culture, lifestyle, language, food and people. Volunteers should remember that this is a cultural exchange and that an effort to offer some knowledge of their own home culture and customs to the family with whom they stay is appreciated. During their stay, volunteers will attend 2 hours of language lessons in the morning and in the afternoon. They will also have the opportunity to visit and help out at the local school. Home stay programmes are best organized from August to December which is the time when most large local festivals take place. This makes for an overall more exciting experience for the volunteer. Nepali culture is distinctively friendly and open and participants are made to feel as though they are part of the family. Real Nepal local co-ordinator will be on hand to help volunteers.

    (D )Health Post & Sanitation Issues
    Real Nepal’s health post program provides a wide variety of experiences depending on the time of year. While at your placement, volunteers may be doing very hands-on work such as giving shots and treating wounds; conducting home-visits; developing and delivering information on health issues such as birth control and personal hygiene; providing office support; and providing knowledge transfer to the health post doctors on the latest first aid techniques. Volunteers usually work approximately two to four hours a day in the health post, supplemented by teaching health education classes at a local government school or women’s group. Prior to your placement at the health post, volunteers will receive two weeks of Nepali language and cultural training. During their placement, volunteers will stay with a local Nepali family located within a half-hour to an hour from the post. An Real Nepal local co-ordinator will be available to help volunteers.

    (E )Teaching various subjects in Schools
    In this program, volunteers teach various subjects at theirs choice at government schools to students of varying age and ability, although most students are aged ten to sixteen. Depending on the school, volunteers will either teach independently or with another Nepali teacher. Volunteers teach between two to four 45-minute classes each day, six days a week (Saturdays are holidays).Volunteers enrolling in this program will also be expected to share their own teaching methodologies/experiences as well helping the school’s teachers to develop their own conversational English skills. Prior to their placement, volunteers will receive two weeks of Nepali language and cultural training. During their placement, volunteers will stay with a local Nepali family located between a half-hour to one hour from the school. An Real Nepal local co-ordinator will be available to help volunteers. This will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life.

    (F) Volunteering at Orphanage
    Volunteers will be placed in an orphanage where they will live with the children, or with our host family,assisting them in their day to day routine. The children are mostly between the ages of four and fifteen, and have a basic understanding of English. The general role of the volunteer will be to act as an older sibling: to care for, look after and encourage the children. Volunteers will teach the children general life skills, including health and sanitation, as well as arts, crafts and music. Depending on your own skills and interests, though, you can also teach songs, music, dance, cooking, or any number of activities, and generally just spend quality time with the children.

    (G)Fundraiser for our Resource Center and other projects
    Volunteers are needed to raise funds for Real Nepal . We need grant writers and fund-raisers of any kind to bring urgently needed funding to the organization and it’s project. We would like the volunteer to raise funds to run the program we are running in different parts of Nepal and the different types of programs. The volunteers will raise money and send it to Real Nepal and the volunteers will also provided with one of the various volunteering opportunities we are providing.

    How does Program go?

    2 weeks Volunteer and Adventure Program –

    Your 2 weeks will be broken up in this way and we cover all the cost for these activities:

    1st day – Pick up from the airport + Welcome Dinner

    2nd day – 2 hours Nepali language class (10:00AM-12:00PM) + Lunch break (12:00PM-2:00PM) + 1 hour Cultural information class (2:00PM-3:00PM) and 2 hours sightseeing in Kathmandu (3:00PM-5:00PM, Monkey Temple) + Nepali dinner 6:30PM

    3rd day – 2 hours Nepali language+ 1 hour personal safety+ 1 hour Placement information+ 3 hours sightseeing (Pashupati Nath and Buddha Nath)+ Newari Dinner

    4th day – Travel to Chitwan (5 hours bus ride from Kathmandu, bus leaves about 7:00AM) + evening jungle activities + dinner at Jungle resort

    5th day – Jungle activities

    6th day – Jungle activities and travel to volunteer Project sites

    7th day – 12th day – Volunteer work at the Project

    13th day – Travel back to Kathmnadu + Placement feedback + placement report writing + good bye dinner

    14th day – Farewell and airport drop off

    What includes on the program fees ?

    Air port pick ups / Return Airport Transfers, Accommodation and main meals during training period and placement, 4 major sightseeing tours in Kathmandu with free entrance, (Kathmandu Durbar Square , Pashupatinath, Buddhanath, and Swoyambhunath, 2 days orientation on Language, Culture and Project, land transportation to placement and to Chitwan National park, jungle activities (Elephant safari to see the one horn Rhinoceros and Royal Bengal Tiger, canoeing, Elephant Breeding Centre, Tharu Cultural Dance, Tharu village, visit Tharu museum, elephant bathing, Jungle walk), accommodation and 3 meals at your jungle lodge and park entrance fees, land transportation back to Kathmandu, last night accommodation and dinner in Kathmandu


    Air transportation, any kind of drinks, telephone, laundry, donations and extra food

    3 weeks Volunteer and Adventure Program-

    Your 3 weeks will be broken up in this way: –

    NOTE: If you wish to design your own itinerary for your student / volunteers, we will be happy to fit on your needs and interest.

    1st day – Pick up from the airport + Welcome Dinner

    2nd day – 2 hours Nepali language class (10:00AM-12:00PM) + Lunch break (12:00PM-2:00PM) + 1 hour Cultural information class (2:00PM-3:00PM) and 2 hours sightseeing in Kathmandu (3:00PM-5:00PM, Monkey Temple) + Nepali dinner 6:30PM

    3rd day – 2 hours Nepali language+ 1 hour personal safety+ 1 hour Placement information+ 3 hours sightseeing (Pashupati Nath and Buddha Nath)+ Newari Dinner

    4th day – Rafting on Trisuli River + Bus to Chitwan National Park + evening jungle activities + dinner at Jungle lodge

    5th day – Jungle activities / Elephant ride etc

    6th day – Jungle activities and travel to Volunteer Project site ( Chitwan Or Pokhara 7th day to 14th day – Volunteer Project site staying with Nepali Host Family

    15th day to 19th day – Trekking (On the trek you will be staying at tea-houses)

    20th day – Travel to Back to Kathmnadu / Placement feedback + placement report writing + farewell dinner

    21st day – Good bye and airport drop off

    What includes on the program fees ?

    Air port pick ups / Return airport transfers, accommodation and main meals during training period and placement,3 major sightseeing tours in Kathmandu, 2 days orientation on Language, Culture and project, land transportation to placement and Chitwan National park, jungle activities (like Elephant safari to see the one horn Rhinoceros and Royal Bengal Tiger, canoeing, Elephant Breeding Centre, Tharu Cultural Dance, Tharu village, visit Tharu museum, elephant bathing, Jungle walk), accommodation and 3 meals at the jungle lodge, park entrance fees, 4 days trekking (includes permit, guide, porter, accommodation and main meals), 1 day white water rafting, land transportation back to Kathmandu, last night accommodation and farewell dinner in Kathmandu.

    We are very happy to work with your team and promote your Organization’s work here in Nepal.

    How much does it cost ?

    Our program fees is negotiable, it depends on the number of people.

  4. we are looking for a structured self exploration program for our daughter. She has ocd and processing issues. does well with nurture and stucture. she loves working with children and has a very gentle nature.

  5. Dear Barbara,
    I will send you an email, but please check your junk mail box (AOL often marks me as spam…how embarrassing!). Or you can give us a call at 720.279.7577. Heather Creech is the ideal person to help find the appropriate program for your daughter.
    Thanks for getting in touch!

  6. Hi Mark,
    I’m currently a junior in high school and I’m very interested in doing a gap year or summer abroad. the problem is i can’t seem to find the right program or know which ones to look at. i tried looking at the websites that you said had their own lists but I really didn’t find anything of help. Do you have some organizations that you would recommend? Thanks.

  7. Hi, Johannah,
    We’d be happy to help. We do Gap Year consulting, so if you’re interested in having some help identifying the best programs to suit your needs and ambitions, just let me know. We’d be delighted to assist!

  8. Hi Mark,

    I took a gap year myself and am a huge believer in the benefits — so much so that I’ve recently started working for a new gap year program called Global Citizen Year, which strikes me as the most compelling idea out there yet to actually use a gap year as a time to gain the global knowledge and skills that most students really don’t learn in high school. It’s not so much an adventure/service/travel excursion as it is a structured training and immersion opportunity, and for that I think it really stands out as a promising approach.

    I just wanted to be sure you were aware of this program as you assist students and their parents in finding the right program. Any student who seeks to have firsthand experience with global challenges and the cross-cultural fluencies to address them should start with a Global Citizen Year before college. It’s what I would have done, had it existed in my time!

    Thanks for keeping us in mind and feel free to email me for more information.

  9. Thanks for the information, Molly. Gap Year experiences can be fantastic, as you can attest, and I’ll look more into Global Citizen Year. Please feel free to send me more information.

  10. Great, I’d be happy to send along a few things. If you email me directly, I can send them to you soft copy; otherwise should I send them via mail?

  11. Hi Mark,
    I’m currently a high school senior, I already applied for college here in Puerto Rico but I’ve always wanted to study in the U.S., unfortunately it was impossible for me to apply on time. The idea of a Gap Year really caught my attention, I was thinking on taking one and applying in a U.S college for 2012, but I’ve read in a couple of articles(including yours) that It’s better to defer my matriculation. If I do this, can I still apply for college in any state or do I have to come back and study here?

  12. Hello Mark,
    Our son was just accepted to some colleges that he is very interested in but we are waiting for the financial pkgs. He had mentioned a while back about possibly doing a gap year. Wondering if you could help guide us in this area.
    Thanks so much, Sharon

  13. Hello.
    We’d be happy to help. Give me a call at 720.279.7577.

  14. Hello, Tatiana,

    If you take a Gap Year, you can defer if you like. Or you can start all over again. Or both–at least if you defer your current acceptance, you have something already in the bag. While there are generalities one can make in this business, each case (including yours) is different needs to be examined individually. If you’d like help planning your gap year and in applying to US universities for next year, please get in touch. We can help!
    Best of luck.

  15. I’m a senior in high school and I’m looking to take a year off before college. Maybe even just a semester. The thing is I need it to be relatively in expensive and possibly provide accommodation. While there I would like to work and make money and then go to college after that. If possible I want to go to Ireland or the UK in general. Any suggestions?

  16. Hi, Dana.
    As an American, it will be hard to work in another country–you’d need a visa. I’d consider doing what the Brits do, generally: they work hard for six months to amass some cash, and then go spend it during the second half of the year. Look for a semester program, and then get a job in the States to pay for it.
    How does that sound?

  17. Do you still provide GAP year counseling? My son is a senior and wants to take a year off before going to college and we feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. It feels like we just didn’t plan this correctly and before getting discouraged, I wanted to talk to someone.


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