Traditionally, a gap year referred to prospective college students who wanted to take some time off prior to beginning their post-high school education. More recently, college students looking for a break during the college years, as well as college graduates, have found the gap year experience to be an attractive alternative.
For college graduates, even though entrance into the workforce is delayed, a gap year can provide resume-boosting experience for when you're ready to line up a permanent position.
Gap programs need not last a complete year—a semester may be long enough—although pre-college students typically postpone college for a year. Some high school students elect to start college in the spring after graduation and complete a six-month experience in the interim.
Can increase a student's college readiness and maturity
An opportunity to travel around the globe before taking on adult financial and work responsibilities
Allows students time to explore career options
Helps students improve focus on academics upon their return
Some program costs can range from $5,000 to $20,000
May need to defer admission to target schools
May need to work on college admissions process during gap year
Benefits of Gap Year Programs
Gap year programs offer a multitude of potential benefits. High school grads may need this time to gain maturity and increase their readiness for the rigors of college. Many young people use the opportunity to explore different parts of the country or world while unencumbered by the responsibilities of adult life.
Gap year programs can also help participants explore different career options, clarify values, and develop skills which will help them to be successful in college, or the work world after college. By quenching these desires to get away, the gap year can help individuals to focus their energies on academics or career upon their return.
High school students who plan to participate in a gap year experience will need to investigate the options for deferring admission at target schools or be ready to engage in the admissions process during their gap year. Even if high school students don't formally apply to college during their senior year, they will benefit from meeting with counselors, securing recommendations, drafting essays, researching college matches, and visiting some schools.
Types of Gap Year Programs
A wide range of gap programs exists, including those with a focus on national/international service, art, cultural/linguistic immersion, outdoor education, the environment, health, hunger, homelessness, organic farming, and the sea. Not only will you gain experience, but you’ll also help other people, and it will look good on your resume.
AdmissionsQuest and Middlebury College provide lists of gap programs to explore. Web-based services like Gapyear.com and the Center for Interim Programs provide consulting services and lots of content with advice for those considering gap experiences.
Cost of Gap Year Programs
Gap year programs can be quite expensive, with fees and expenses commonly ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. Some programs provide fundraising packets so prospective participants can seek support from family, friends, and community organizations.
Gap Year Fairs: Many gap year programs participate in fairs held from January through March each year throughout the country. You can access a list of participating programs and a schedule of the fairs (in season) by visiting the USA Gap Year Fairs site.
There are also a few opportunities for organized gap year programs that cost nothing, such as the following.
AmeriCorps does not charge any fees and offers thousands of opportunities for young people to engage in short-term experiences. Participants receive a modest stipend to cover living expenses and healthcare benefits. Housing is sometimes provided.
A major benefit of the program is the opportunity to earn an award to help fund subsequent education. The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award provides participants with up to $5,500 upon successful completion of an AmeriCorps program. In addition, there is currently a group of 112 colleges that will match the Segal Award with funding of their own.
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 created a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and an Income-Based Repayment plan (IBR) for the repayment of federal loans.
The Income-Based Repayment plan helps to make repaying education loans more affordable for low-income borrowers, such as an AmeriCorps member living on a stipend. AmeriCorps service is also recognized as equivalent to a public service job for the purposes of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Prospective participants can search the AmeriCorps site for programs in fields like community development, children/youth, disaster relief, education, eldercare, environment, health, hunger, homelessness, housing, homeland security, neighborhood revitalization, public safety, and technology. In addition, they can designate preferred geographic locations, as well as skills and languages, which they would like to utilize.
College graduates looking for a productive gap experience overseas should also consider the Peace Corps if they are able to spend 27 months in service. The Peace Corps provides travel to and from placements, healthcare, and medical benefits, living expenses, and a relocation allowance of $8,000 upon completion of the 27-month assignment. Student loans can be deferred during Peace Corps service as well.