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)
GAP Year Communities
GapYear.com 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.