A gap year is an intentional year off taken between the end of high school and the start of the next formal step.
Some students travel, others do an extended volunteer service with an organization like AmeriCorps, and others work or do an internship in a particular field.
If students are intentional about a gap year before entering college, the benefits can be significant. Students come to college with more maturity and with more readiness for upper-level academic work.
A gap year does not have to be expensive. Some of the organized programs via gap year companies are indeed pricey—you may be paying travel, living, and arrangement expenses—but a gap year experience does not have to be expensive overall. Check out the available resources, do some research, and create your own experience.
What are the potential benefits to a gap year?
There are several potential benefits. The authors of the book The Self-Driven Child put it this way:
Before spending the energy and money on a college experience, it just makes sense to bring a more mature brain into the equation. This is particularly true for kids who have ADHD (in whom development of the prefrontal cortex lags behind that of other kids) and kids who see college not as a meaningful growth opportunity but as an obligation. Another reason is financial: Spending huge tuition on kids who hate school is a really risky proposition. . . .Those who have taken a gap year, it turns out, finish college more quickly because they’ve taken the time to sharpen their focus. Fifty-seven percent of people commenting on their gap year said it helped them figure out what they wanted to study. In contrast, consider that almost half of students who enroll in four-year colleges don’t graduate at all.
--Gap Years: How Can Starting Behind Put Kids Ahead? Psychology Today 8.14.2018
How do gap years work if I know I want to go to college?
You can do a gap year a couple of ways. Often, people apply as usual during their senior year but research the gap year policies of the colleges on their list, and apply only to places that have a reputation for encouraging/ allowing gap years. After they apply, they research and solidify what they would like to do for a year. Then, if accepted, they petition to their desired school that they would like to defer for a year by submitting a proposal for their gap year. Proposals have a better chance of being accepted if they are specific and show a lot of self-reflection and research. Saying only “I want to work for a year” or “I need a year off” will not be viewed as favorably.
Or, you can hold off applying and then apply as a graduate. This way might be preferable if you need some more time to figure out what kind of college environment would be best for you, or what professional direction might be most suited to you. You will not have access to Scoir as a graduate, and you would have to do more legwork to get any letters of recommendation or other materials.
If I want to volunteer for a year, how would that work?
You could set up your own volunteer experience with a nonprofit organization, or you can check out programs with AmeriCorps or City Year. These organizations set up year-long or school year long experiences, and list them like job openings. Through these organizations, there will be a stipend to help pay living expenses. Students apply for positions and the organization selects students according to the stated criteria.
For more information on volunteering for a gap year, see:
- AmeriCorps.gov national site
- CityYear.org national site
- CityYear Seattle/ King County for local efforts under the organization
- United Way of King County AmeriCorps program includes HungerCorps program and others in our area
How to find out more about Gap Year Programs: Start with the links in the right margin of this page, and then explore the possibilities.
Download the above image as a PDF: GYA Student one pager
Gap Year Links
2023 Gap Year Fair Digital Guide Couldn't attend the local Gap Year Fair in Seattle? Here's a slideshow that includes all of the participating organizations, and has some great advice & resources.
USA Gap Year Fairs Sponsors the annual Seattle Gap Year Fair, which is usually in February. The site has a good list of programs by type (academic, adventure, environmental, internship/ work, travel) and other resources
Gap Year Program Search from the Gap Year Association
GO Overseas gap year company which has lots of programs and several free resources including a matcher tool.
Gap Matcher from GO Overseas matches you with potential programs. Some programs are expensive; you can use this tool as a first step to see if what options there are in your desired areas.
Gap Year Benefits page on Gap Year Association page. Includes data from recent surveys and other research methods.
2022 USA Gap Year Guide Resources & lots of ideas for planning.
Video of Service as a Gap Year: AmeriCorps as a Domestic Service YearRecording of 10.26.20 event by the Gap Year Association and AmeriCorps.
American Gap Association Organization that establishes standards for gap year programs. Site has a wealth of information for families.
Volunteering for a Gap Year Contains general information about factors to consider as you are contemplating a gap year and lists some of the possible programs.
College Gap Year Deferral Policies Considering a Gap Year but know you want to go to college? Look at this list of deferral policies, arranged by state. Verify all information with each university to which you apply, but this handy list can be a starting point.
Washington Service Corps/ AmeriCorps The Washington Service Corps administers local AmeriCorps positions. If you are considering a year of service, check out the Washington Service Corps current listings and find out more about their program.
My Gap Year Experience by a 2016 SW Grad View this You Tube video My Gap Year Experience by 2016 Shorewood Grad Krystin Kalvoy. She applied to colleges her senior year and then deferred admission for a year while she spent a year in Norway.
TeenLife Gap Year Program List TeenLife has compiled a great list of established programs. View by location or type (Community Service, Latin America, China, Gap Year Advisor services).
Benefits of Taking a Gap Year Business Insider article by Jeremy Berke: "Malia Obama is taking a 'gap year' before attending Harvard--here's why that's a great idea."
Data & Benefits American Gap has compiled data about the outcomes of gap year participants, the types of experiences they have, and other measures.
Gap to Great Blog Started by the Andrea Wien, the author of the book Gap to Great, this blog and the site form a virtual community of students during or after a gap year.
USA Gap Year Fairs Sponsors the annual Seattle Gap Year Fair, which is usually in February. The site has a good list of programs by type (academic, adventure, environmental, internship/ work, travel) and other resources.
Center for Interim Programs A firm that provides Gap Year counseling. The site has good overview and general information.