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Articles / Applying to College / The Gap Year Choice

The Gap Year Choice

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | May 11, 2017

Not all college-bound high school seniors will be on a campus this fall. Some will be pursuing a Gap Year. For the uninitiated, let's explain the Gap Year.

Could there be a better place to discover what a Gap Year is than gapyear.com? Probably not. So what does that site have to say about Gap Years?

Today, thousands of people are taking gap years all over the world, travelling to destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Thailand for months on end, travelling with relative comfort and ease. Today, a gap year can be anywhere, for any length of time, doing anything you want. You can build an orphanage in Belize, teach English as a foreign language in Israel, trek through the Himalayas in Nepal or travel around the 'banana pancake trail' in South East Asia. A gap year really is whatever you want it to be.

A gap year comes under many guises - backpacking, a career gap, a short gap year, travelling, time out, a sabbatical - but they all mean the same thing. A gap year is constructive time out to travel in-between life stages. It usually means travelling, volunteering or working abroad. Often it means all three!

Backpacking and travelling is particularly popular among students in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands, and a number of countries (including the ones stated) offer working holiday visas to improve cultural ties and foreign exchange.

Another country that is starting to get in on the gap year action is the United States of America with more and more people travelling each year.

Gap years are now seen as a way to improve your CV and to gain relevant work experience in a particular field, with employers actively employing people who have taken a gap year.

Whether you see a gap year as backpacking or taking time out, it's about living life to the full and realising that there is a world of opportunity out there just waiting to be explored...

It can also be about earning money for college. Gap Years (I prefer the proper-noun version of the term) can be much more than 365 days or so of fun in Europe or South America. If you would like to see how many job opportunities are available for Gappers, just do an Internet search for "working during a Gap Year" (without the quotation marks). You'll be surprised.

How to approach a Gap Year is the single most important aspect of making that decision. This issue reminds me of an old Steve Martin stand-up bit. He pretends to be one of those loud, high-pressure, over-the-top, late-night pitchmen who appear on the commercial breaks during old sci-fi movies. He shouts, "Would you like to know how to be a millionaire and not pay any taxes?!?!" Then, very softly and quickly, almost under his breath, he notes, "First, get a million dollars ..." Then on to his pitch.

Similarly, I would say, "How would you like to do a Gap Year?!" My next statement would be Steve Martin-like: "First, get accepted into a college that entertains Gap Years."

Many colleges are pro-Gap Year. Others are not. You'll have to search your candidate colleges' Web sites to check and see what their policies are concerning Gap Years. By all means do this before you make your enrollment decision.

Anyway, stand-up comics aside, how should you go about planning a Gap Year once you decide that you need a break from all those consecutive years of school? Naturally, lots of help is available.

One of the best sources to help you make these important choices is the American Gap Association. The AGA is an accreditation organization that evaluates and accredits Gap Year programs. As they note on their home Web page:

Accreditation by the American Gap Association represents a commitment to the highest standards in safety, quality, and integrity. They [the Gap Year programs] have agreed to consistently abide by the Standards of the American Gap Association, which typically means that a student can count on an experience with the highest caliber of field leadership, the best degree of office support, and the highest standards of safety. ...

If you have been looking for a formal, organized Gap Year program, in lieu of one of your own creation, then this would be the place to go. There you'll find organizations sponsoring Gap Year programs that have been vetted by the strictest AGA Gap Year Standards. The process involves both AGA staff and the powerful Board of Advisors to ensure the best in Gap Year education and the highest consistency in programming.

To give you an idea of some available AGA-accredited programs, here a sampling from the AGA site:

KIVU Gap Year

Accreditation is CURRENT

Kivu Gap Year is an 8 month internship and home stay based Gap Year experience at domestic and international locations.

Where There Be Dragons

Accreditation is CURRENT

3 month Gap Year programs in China, Tibetan Himalayas, Southeast Asia, South America, West Africa, Indonesia, Central America, and the Middle East. Fall and Spring departures.

Cross-Cultural Solutions

Accreditation is CURRENT

3 month service-learning Gap Year programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Students can visit multiple countries as part of their Gap Year through the Global Gap, Spanish Immersion, and Diversity of Africa Gap Year experiences. Customized start dates and durations also available year-round. Cross-Cultural Solutions is a non-profit organization that partners with sustainable community initiatives, bringing people together to work side-by-side while sharing perspectives and fostering cultural understanding.

Thinking Beyond Borders

Accreditation is CURRENT

A variety of Gap Year programs, including the 2-semester Global Gap Year, South America Gap Semester, and Asia Gap Semester combining deep cultural immersion, fieldwork with experts, and engaging readings and discussions. Fall and Spring semester options.

Global Routes

Accreditation is CURRENT

3 month immersive Gap semester programs in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Gap programs are based on Global Routes' Teaching Internship Program model. Since 1986, Global Routes programs have offered participants an opportunity to immerse themselves into a small rural community, develop long-lasting cross-cultural relationships, and make positive contributions that will last a lifetime. Fall and Spring options. Financial aid and scholarships available.


National Outdoor Leadership School

Accreditation is CURRENT

The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is the leader in wilderness education. Whether through field-based courses or classroom-based courses, NOLS offers a focus on leadership and outdoors skills in some of the most awe-inspiring locations in the world. Emerge an active leader with lifelong skills.

Outward Bound

Accreditation is CURRENT

Featuring 3 month and shorter Gap Year courses. For over 50 years Outward Bound has been a premier provider of experiential and outdoor education programs for youth and adults. Outward Bound offers courses in some of the most spectacular and inspiring settings in the United States and in Central and South America, successfully preparing students to confront the challenges they face today with self-confidence, tenacity and compassion.

Rustic Pathways

Accreditation is CURRENT

Semester experiences in the South Pacific, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Programs facilitate community service, cultural immersion, outdoor adventure, personal growth, language, and skills courses. Fall and Spring departures available.

Pacific Discovery

Accreditation is CURRENT

Pacific Discovery offers semester and Gap Year programs abroad since 2001. Programs are overland journeys combining authentic immersion, meaningful service, and wilderness adventure - fostering empathy for other cultures, ethical and sustainable travel practices, and awareness of international issues. Students leave with a deepened sense of their identity, passion, and purpose. Programs are a 10 week journey with an optional 3-week independent extension to apply newly developed travel skills. Programs in New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, South America, Central America, Cuba, Galapagos Islands, India, Nepal, Tibet, China. Fall, Spring, and Summer departures can be taken consecutively for an in-depth and transformative Gap Year experience. Scholarships and academic credit options available.

Amigos De Las Americas

Accreditation is CURRENT

Semester and Yearlong Gap Year internships in Nicaragua. Focus on service-learning with local NGOs and independent projects. In-country training, workshops, excursions and final debriefing included. Rolling admissions with Fall, Spring, and Summer departures.

Ridge Mountain Academy

Accreditation is CURRENT

RIDGE Mountain Academy has semester and yearlong programs designed for male and female student athletes ages 16 to 20 who have a passion for the mountains. Located in Whitefish, Montana, RIDGE is a campus-based academy that focuses on mountain sports, education, and life skills. RIDGE prepares student athletes of all abilities — beginner to elite — to strengthen their training, forge new skills, and discover their true potential.

Camps International

Accreditation is CURRENT

Service learning Gap programs in South America, South East Asia and East Africa. Programs run throughout the year and students can choose an experience from 2 to 3-months. Camps International are a Social Enterprise working to empower communities and deliver sustainable community, conversation and environment solutions through their network of permanent volunteer camps in Peru, Ecuador, Borneo, Cambodia, Tanzania and Kenya.


One of the subtexts here, I believe, is that a Gap Year can provide a period of introspection, reflection, assessment, and pondering for high school graduates. In today's lightning-fast society, there's precious little time to take in The Bigger Picture of one's life. So, for those of you who may be reading this, I hope that you might give the Gap Year concept a thought or two.

For you parents who may be in a quandary about your high schooler and his/her future plans, the Gap Year may hold some promise for you, too. Encourage your child to investigate.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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