What is a Gap Year?

what-is-a-gap-yearIf the idea of going directly to college after twelve years of education depresses you, maybe you should consider taking a Gap Year.

Of course, academic burn-out is not the only reason to take the hiatus; there are several good reasons why the break makes sense. Maybe you need some more time to mature before being “on your own” in the university environment or maybe you just aren’t ready to declare a major.


A Gap Year is a period of time used to gain experiences that prepare you for the next step in your education. As a matter of fact, it could be considered the next step. This is not a time spent working to gain more money for college; it is a period set aside to learn experientially things that you could not be taught in the classroom.

Usually the gap period is between high school and the university, but it could occur between your baccalaureate degree and graduate school. The American Gap Association says the trend began in the UK in the 1970s to fill the time between the final secondary exam and the beginning of university programs. It came to the U.S. in the 1980s, and the idea has spawned a large number of educational programs aimed at helping students take advantage of the time.

Reasons to Take the Hiatus

Aside from “burn-out,” there are other reasons to take a gap period. Learning to be independent is important. The “time-off” may also give you time to learn more about yourself, and what is important to you. If you have never traveled, this could be the time to see more of the country, and maybe more of the world.

Arranging Leave from School

Most high schools students spend a great deal of time applying to universities during their senior year. In fact, you may have already been admitted to a college and perhaps even awarded scholarships and grants.

How does this year of experience affect your college standing? According to an article on the U.S. News website, some universities have begun admitting students, then allowing them to postpone beginning their freshman year. Schools are selective in granting this privilege; Harvard and Princeton are admitting as few as 50 to 70 students a year with this provision. If your school will not defer your freshman admission, you will probably have to reapply. Still, if they accepted you the first time, you will probably be accepted when you reapply, and schools that rejected you applications may actually admit you after you gain valuable experiences. You will have to reapply for scholarships and grants that cannot be put on hold, but your experiences can make you more “attractive” to funding sources as well as universities.

Experiences Available

Actual programs can be expensive, but you might consider volunteering for an organization like the AmeriCorps. Participants get health care benefits and a stipend for living expenses plus, they receive $5,350 at the completion of the program to use for their college expenses. That amount is tied to the Pell Grant maximum award. Ninety-two colleges will match that amount which doubles your “scholarship.” Habitat for Humanity is another choice, but you would be responsible for your own living expenses. You can also structure your own experiences, working to pay your way.

There are many reasons that taking a hiatus from school makes sense. There are some drawbacks, but the experience and maturity you gain can outweigh them. There are many formal educational opportunities available and some really good volunteer programs, so choosing one in your area of interest makes sense, but so does experiencing something entirely new. The choice is up to you. The Gap Year education is one you could never get sitting behind a computer or in a lecture hall.