The Gap Year

By Sara Cronin, senior admissions consultant

Former admission officer at Providence College and the University of Connecticut

As juniors begin to think about their time after high school many will consider post-secondary college plans.  Students often begin to think about big or small schools, far from home or close by, city or suburban.  One opportunity that some juniors may begin to explore is a gap year.  The idea of a gap year has grown in popularity over the last several years, and now Tufts University and other similar programs are making it an easier possibility.

A gap year is generally defined as an extended break between high school and college.  Often seniors in high school apply to college, get accepted, and then defer their admission for six months to a year.  The gap year experience can take on a number of different possibilities.  The year off after high school can be utilized to volunteer locally or abroad, travel, intern or work in a variety of settings.  Students who take advantage of the gap year experience often find themselves in a very different setting than what they would discover on a college campus. 

According to the American Gap Association, an organization that is an “accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap years that is recognized as such by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission,” interest and enrollment is growing steadily in gap programs.  There are no definitive numbers regarding who is choosing to pursue a gap experience, but the overall trends show a significant growth in students taking time off prior to college.

The reasons that students pursue gap year opportunities vary widely. Some students feel they are not ready for the rigors of a collegiate academic experience.  Other students look to expand their horizons beyond the US borders before embarking on their collegiate careers in the States. While other students are looking to earn both money and experience prior to college.  Although the reasons may vary as to why students choose a gap year, colleges report that those students who take six months to a year before enrolling have a greater maturity towards and appreciation for the university experience.  Studies show that 90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Tufts University introduced an innovative program a few years ago to give students a gap year opportunity. Tufts offers a fully funded "1+4" program that provides students an opportunity to engage in civic experiences around the globe.  According to Tuft’s website, the University and its Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service offer a bridge-year program, called Tufts 1+4.  This program provides a structured year of full-time national or international service before students begin their four years of undergraduate study.

Another gap year example is at Elon University in North Carolina, which offers a gap semester program available only to enrolling freshman.  This program provides students the opportunity to spend the fall semester in three diverse settings and then return to Elon for the winter term and spring semester.              

There are numerous groups and organizations that provide gap year opportunities.  Costs can vary as widely as the program options, but the overall goal is often the same: to expand one’s horizons, increase self-awareness and challenge one’s comfort zone.  A great place to start is with the American Gap Association which offers an extensive amount of information and accredits gap programs.

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