Gap years are becoming more and more popular, with thousands of high school seniors electing to take a year ‘off’ between graduation and enrolling as a freshman at their college of choice.  Even the Ivy league schools are on board with the concept.  William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard College weighs in favor of taking time off between high school and freshman year.

“Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way” (Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation). Reports are that annually around 100 Harvard-bound students decide to defer their freshman year—including Malia Obama!

Princeton University also promotes taking a gap year via its Bridge Year Program.  Admitted students can apply for a tuition-free nine-month service post at one of five international locations.  Up to 35 students are currently in Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia and Senegal.

The wisest advice I can share with my students about planning a gap year is to:

  1. Identify your goals. These can be tangible or intangible, like learning to speak Italian or becoming more independent.  Just don’t set too many goals – two or three are probably enough!  Take your time with this step.
  2. Once you know what you want to accomplish, think about a structure for the year. A gap year should be well-planned out so that it’s likely you will reach your goals.  Think about your gap year as two or three different segments – how will you use each one to accomplish your goals?  What activities will be the best fit for reaching your goals?
  3. Consider having your first experience be the most structured and one that really excites you. As most of your friends head off to college, you will want to ‘head off’ to do something that is equally exciting for you.

Gap years are not for everyone, but a growing number of seniors are deciding to take time out to learn new skills, relax and reflect, or provide valuable community service.

Karen Aylward
Educational Consultant

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