A gap year is time taken off (usually a year) after graduating from high school and before starting college. Gap years are common in places such as England and are becoming more popular in the United States.
Gap years originate in the desire to take a break from the academic stress of high school before starting college. Students from highly competitive high schools who were admitted to a highly competitive college wanted a chance to explore interests that had been set aside or regimented as part of high school.
The colleges that have accepted these students will generally allow them to request a gap year and defer admissions for a year. Their experience has been that students who take a gap year take more ownership of their education and do better academically.
A small but growing number of schools are actually encouraging gap years and will help fund them. The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill offers a $7,500 competitive fellowship for gap year students. Other schools such as Tufts and Princeton offer their own service learning programs to admitted students with financial assistance based on need.
There are a variety of organizations that offer gap programs that aren’t associated with any specific college. Depending on the program, the cost of participating in independent providers gap programs can cost the equivalent of an additional year of college. Some programs offer scholarships and fund-raising opportunities for students.
However, paid programs are not necessary for a successful gap year. Many students create their own plan of activities and studies to follow their passions for a year. Some work to get experience in fields they’re interested in.
There seems to be an increasing number of students who are using a gap year as a way to get into the highly competitive colleges that rejected them as seniors. These students take a year off without having been admitted into a particular college. Their goal is to do something during the gap year that will impress the admissions office and get them accepted the next time around.
So instead of a gap year being a break from high stakes college admissions, for some people, it is simply a continuation of the process.
Gap years aren’t about working to save for tuition. After all why would so many families be worried about the cost of a gap year if it was about saving money? However, gap years do have the potential to save money if the result is the student being more focused about their education so that they graduate in four years with higher grades.