Take a gap year before college

A gap year between senior year of high school and freshman year of college can give you valuable experience. Some colleges even recommend taking time off!

Take a gap year before college

Have you ever thought about backpacking through Europe? Volunteering in an underprivileged country? Tutoring young students? Becoming a ski instructor in Aspen?

All of these options and more could make for a rewarding college gap year.

What is it?

A college gap year is traditionally taking a year off between your senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Some students also take a year off between receiving their undergraduate degree and beginning grad school or even during college. “A gap year may consist of international travel, but could also be a chance for students to work or do some type of service project,” says Hillary Teague, assistant director of admission and coordinator of multicultural recruitment at Kalamazoo College (kzoo.edu) in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Gap years have been commonplace in the U.K. and Australia for decades (11 percent of college-bound students in the U.K. take one) and are becoming more popular in the U.S. Even colleges like Harvard and Columbia encourage students to defer enrollment to take an enriching gap year before enrolling in classes. (Most colleges allow you to defer enrollment for a year if you’re accepted.)

A college gap year might be a great idea for you and many other college-bound students.

Why, you ask? Well first of all, a gap year should be much more than just lying on your parents’ couch all day eating Doritos. Chances are no admissions director would encourage that. A gap year can give you a well-rounded view of the world, and can also invigorate you if you’re feeling burnt out. It could also help your résumé after you graduate from college.

In our increasingly global economy, employers are looking for people who can interact well with others and who can appreciate different points of view, Teague says.

International travel

Visiting historical churches and museums, sipping an espresso at an outdoor café, laughing with new international friends you meet at a hostel. Although backpacking might include all of those things, it’s much more difficult than you think.

Obviously, money is an issue when traveling abroad for a year. It is absolutely possible, and often necessary, to do a gap year on a budget. Hostels, cheap local fare and avoiding expensive souvenirs or other unnecessary purchases are vital to keeping within your budget.

The average gap year abroad costs between $10,000 and $20,000. You’ll either need to have that money saved up or earn a portion of it by working. Through the experiences of working an odd job in another country or navigating your way through foreign streets, you’ll become even more mature and independent. Imagine how ahead of the game you’ll be when you go to college. (Some freshmen don’t even know how to do their own laundry!)

Adrian Avila took time off while in college to travel to Australia and ended up attending college there.

I loved the atmosphere and how laid back it was compared to the U.S.,” he says. “I wanted time to relax and prepare myself for a career.


There are many opportunities for service projects either overseas or right here in the States.

Americorps (americorps.org) is a program for young adults over 17 who want to give back to their community or other communities across the country. If you sign up for Americorps, you are eligible to earn up to $4,725 to pay for college. You can be involved in a number of different service projects, including tutoring disadvantaged youth, building affordable housing and helping communities respond to disasters.

Another similar program, City Year (cityyear.org), involves tutoring and mentoring children, organizing after-school programs and other community-based events. “City Year is a program for students aged 17 to 24 that is a good alternative to just working or traveling,” Teague says.

An international volunteer option is Global Learning Across Borders (global-lab.org), which combines international travel and service work. During their Explorations in China and Tibet program, young people ages 17 to 22 explore historical parts of each city they visit and volunteer in different places along the way, such as a health clinic in Guangzhou, China, and helping teachers in a rural Tibetan school. This program costs $10,845 and lasts three months.

Other options

Not every gap year has to be the same. How about taking a year off to work in a resort as a ski or snowboard instructor or just volunteering in your community?

The important thing to remember is that a gap year is more than just taking a year off to procrastinate.

Whether you decide to defer your enrollment or apply to colleges after your gap year experience, you have to stay focused on your goal of going to college. A gap year is a great way to gain a worldly perspective, a newfound independence and recharge your brain for college.


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