The concept of a Gap Year is getting a lot of buzz these days, and many colleges are highly favorable toward students who make this choice. They know from first-hand experience that many post Gap freshmen are among the most well adjusted, thoughtful, and academically successful students that they have enrolled. A Gap Year (or semester) is a period of time off between high school graduation and the start of college during which the student engages in activities that promote personal growth and empowerment. A Gap experience may involve travel, volunteer service, employment, an internship, or some combination thereof.
A Gap Year can be an excellent choice for most any student, but is especially recommended for those who could use a break from the burnout of intense high school academics (prior to taking on the rigors of college study), those who may be somewhat unfocused in their goals and aspirations, and others who aren’t quite developmentally ready (aka mature enough) to make the most of living and studying independently. Since I have known a number of students like this in my education consulting practice, I appreciated the following quote by Danielle Wood, from the Today Show online:
Sending a kid who’s not ready off to college is like sending a kid who’s not hungry to an all-you-can-eat-buffet.
So how does a family explore Gap Year opportunities? A basic web search is a good start, although there are also now some good books available on this topic. Two important pieces of advice from those in the know: One, a Gap experience should never be a last minute fall-back option, for example upon receiving a rejection letter from your top college pick; to ensure a good experience it should be thoroughly researched and planned well in advance. Second, a Gap Year Program made available through an agency or organization, if that is the choice, should involve thorough investigation of its safety and soundness, especially if it includes travelling or living far away from home.
Some well-known programs are quite expensive, especially those that involve an overseas placement or a lot of travel, so shop around for the most reasonable cost. Also consider making a deal with your parents for a program of shorter duration in exchange for you working for three or six months to carry some of the cost; both the job and the program constitute your gap experience in this scenario. There are a few programs that are low cost or free that involve intensive service, such as the Americorps programs, some of which actually pay a small stipend or grant to help cover college costs.
A final great thing about Gap Year experiences is once again, the extent to which colleges are increasingly favorable about them (including Ivies and other highly selective schools), sometimes actually promoting them to students or granting deferments (giving permission for a delayed start date) to accepted students who decide they wish to do this before matriculating. Some students have even found that completing a Gap Year has improved their chances with a school that previously rejected or wait listed them.