Gap Year Q&A
What is a gap year?
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.
Please realize that a gap year does not have to be expensive. Some of the organized programs are indeed expensive—you may be paying travel, living, and arrangement expenses—but they do not have to be. Check out the available resources and then use your resources and connections to 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 Naviance as a graduate, and you would have to do more legwork to get any letters of recommendation or other materials.
How to find out more about Gap Year Programs:
- Attend Gap Year events or fairs. Gap Year Fairs by GoOverseas are usually very informative. While the Seattle in-person fair is usually in February, there are a variety of virtual events that will be more accessible.
- Browse the resources listed on the top right of this page.
- View the 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.
Gap Year Volunteer Organizations
Learn about City Year
City Year is a particular part of AmeriCorps. Volunteers support students and their communities.
What Is AmeriCorps?
Video Intro to AmeriCorps
Gap Year Resources
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.
2022 USA Gap Year Guide
Resources & lots of ideas for planning.
Video of Service as a Gap Year: AmeriCorps as a Domestic Service Year
Recording of 10.26.20 event by the Gap Year Association and AmeriCorps.
Gap Year Association
Start on the Planning Page and then look through lists of accredited programs. Also see the Planning Your Gap Year Guide (pdf) and download the Gap Year Brochure (pdf).
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).