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The Gap Year or Year Out

What is a gap year?

Maybe you're tired of the academic grind. Maybe you're not sure why you're going to college or what you'll do when you get there. Maybe you yearn to explore far-away places or a career that interests you. If this sounds like you, perhaps now is the time to consider taking a year off between high school and college.

While there is significant peer, parental and school pressure to go straight into college, the adventurous few who take time off can be richly rewarded.

Taking time off before college gives you the gift of time to learn about two essential things: yourself and the world around you.  Of course, if your time off consists of nothing but watching soap operas and eating potato chips, all you'll have at the end is a wasted year. But with research and planning, you can design a semester or year that is both a great learning experience and a lot of fun.

Check out the resources below for more information on working, traveling and volunteering after high school and before college.

Where Do I Start?

Planning is essential in a gap year. There are plenty of resources, including books, websites, and your high school counselor (see below). Look through a guidebook or two on travel, internship, volunteer and other opportunities for high school students in the CCC or at the local public library.

What Are My Options?

There are thousands of options, as well as an infinite combinations of activities. Some students participate in year-long programs. Others may combine two or more short-term programs, or plan a trip on their own or with friends. Here are some common ways to spend your time off:

Travel: Many organizations offer programs with an emphasis on traveling or living abroad. You may also plan your own adventure.

Internships: Spend some time working in a career field that interests you. If you enjoy it, you'll have even more incentive to succeed in your chosen college major. If it's not the field for you, you'll still have plenty of time to explore other career opportunities.

Volunteer work: You can find volunteer programs both in the U.S. and around the world. You can build houses, work with children, work on environmental projects, or a host of other activities.

Academics: Students who are not pleased with their high school records might consider a postgraduate (PG) year. The goal for a PG year is to strengthen your academic record in the hope of gaining entry to a better college.

Work: Whether you find a job at home or away, a year of work can give you extra funds to pay for college, plus valuable, real-life experience.  There are many work and study programs out there.

What About College?

Once you've decided to take time off, it's tempting to chuck the whole college search until next year. But that's not a good idea for a number of reasons. 

First, the college search and application process is much easier while you're still in high school. You have easy access to your school's college resources, your guidance counselor and teachers, and several modes of communication. You don't want to be filling out applications and trying to get counselor recommendations while you're working in the rainforests of South America. 

Second, having your college plans in place can go a long way toward convincing your parents that you will go back to school after your time off.

So go ahead and complete the college admission process. Then contact the college you plan to attend and ask that your admission be deferred for a semester or a year. Most colleges are very receptive to students who want to defer their admission.

All of this can make you even busier than your classmates senior year.  Taking a year off is actually more work because you should apply and get accepted to college as well as figure out what you are doing for the next year.

What Factors Should I Consider?

The following six questions are important for students to consider when planning their time off:

  • What do I want to learn?
  • How much structure do I want or need?
  • Where in the world do I want to be?
  • What kinds of things do I want to do?
  • What will I do when things get very difficult?
  • What is my emergency plan? 
  • Can my family and I afford it?

Talk to your family about your plans and about what you can afford. Some programs cost very little; others can be very expensive. Don't forget to plan for living and travel expenses as well as program fees. Students on a limited budget could consider working full-time for a summer or semester to pay for a semester-long program later in the year. 

As you research and plan, don't limit yourself too much. Take a risk. Living outside of your comfort zone is an important factor in growth.  A year off is an adventure. Don't expect it to be easy. Welcome the new challenges you encounter as you enter into the ongoing process of creating the life you want to lead. The real question of life is beyond college credit.

Outside Programs

Company Type Programs Offered In ...
American Gap   A resource for Gap Year ideas.  http://www.americangap.org/
USA Gap Year Fairs   A great resource for finding programs.
Bard College in Berlin Gap Year Overseas semester or academic year Gap year program allowing students to explore academic interests while earning transferable academic credit. Academy Year students are full members of Bard College Berlin's academic community and take part in its extra-curricular clubs and societies as well as the public lecture series. 
Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (CBYX) CBYX offers merit-based scholarships for an academic year in Germany.  The program was established in 1983 to celebrate German-American friendship based on common values of democracy. Students live with host families, attend local schools, and participate in community life in Germany. For more information and application deadlines, visit the organization in charge of recruitment for your state at www.usagermanyscholarship.org. 
Congress-Bundestag Vocational Youth Exchange Program Work at a German company as an intern for a year. Get hands-on work experience, language training, a host family, and more.  Visit www.nacelopendoor.org
Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Study for one academic year in select countries.

 The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad Program offers merit-based scholarships to spend an academic year in countries that may include Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, and Turkey. This program increases understanding between people in the United States and people in countries with significant Muslim populations. Students live with host families, attend local high schools, do community service, and complete a capstone project. 

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent high school graduates to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs.

NSLI-Y offers merit-based scholarships to study one of seven critical foreign languages: Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish. The NSLI-Y program is designed to immerse participants in the cultural life of the host country, provide formal and informal language practice, and spark a lifetime interest in foreign languages and cultures. 

Uncollege Voyage, Launch and Internship Programs  
AFS-USA International Community Service, Culture Africa, Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Oceania
Africa and Asia Venture (AV) Non-profit volunteering Africa and Asia
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corp (think Peace Corp for the US) USA
CIEE - Gap Year Abroad Culture and Language Asia, Europe, Latin America
Draper University Entrepreneurship Silicon Valley
Youth for Understanding USA Academics, Culture and Language Africa, Asia, Central Asia, Europe, Latin America, Oceania
Global Works Semester or three one-month internship/community service experiences Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala. Possibility of college credit through University of Colorado. This is not a free program.
Rustic Pathways   GAP Year programs