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College 101

What's a Gap Year?
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

No, it isn’t the year you can’t remember. Nor is it the year you wore braces to close that space.

"You couldn’t pay us to re-live that experience (or our parents to relive the payments). Shudder."


A gap year refers to some period of time (a year is simply a suggestion but any longer and it’s not a gap; it’s a hole on its way to a chasm) that people can take to explore their interests and learn things that they might not be able to learn in school. The concept of a gap year is actually quite common in Europe, and is only getting more popular in America (kind of like showering less and Speedos). Typically, a gap year is taken between high school and college, but people take gap years for different reasons. Maybe by the time you’re a senior, it just isn’t what you thought it’d be and you’re having dark thoughts about all your teachers and you’re so burned out on school that the thought of diving right into college classes is the mental equivalent of nails on a calculus-riddled. chalkboard.

Maybe you need some more time to earn cash for the Costs of College. Or perhaps you feel like you need to develop some additional skills—or different ones—by traveling abroad or working, so you don’t sink to the bottom of the college fishbowl. Many parents, college admissions officers, and other students all assert that taking a gap year allows students to learn more about themselves and become more confident and mature professionally, intellectually, and academically.

3 reasons not to take a gap year:

  1. You want to hang out with the kids who were juniors when you were a senior. Now they’re seniors and you’re all ready to party like it’s [insert graduation year] .
  2. You want to work part time at the same place you worked at during senior year and spend the rest of the time glued to the tube watching those kooky Kardashians.
  3. There’s no way that bratty little sister of yours is ever getting your room. Whatever your reason may be, there are a few critical requirements you need to consider before making a gap year part of your plan.

First of all, we strongly recommend that you are accepted to college and then defer your admission to take a year off. Why? Because as a senior in high school you have the motivation and support to apply and get accepted, but as a globe-trotting GAP-per, you probably won’t. So even if you’re a junior or senior and know you’re going to take a gap year, you’ve still got to go through the rigmarole and hassle and expense that is the college application process. So get into college, then Defer for a Gap year.

Second, be sure your gap year has some sort of purpose that leads you into your college studies. Keep in mind what a gap year isn’t: free time to chill.  If you're considering one, we hope you're trying to find something productive to be engaged in. (Sorry, getting a tan is not productive—except perhaps to the Kardashians).

"Hope the guy on the right has some SPF 500."


What’s out there? Good question. The range of choices for a gap year is huge. Here’s a Quick & Dirty rundown of some of the options.

Courses and Certifications

Want to develop a specific skill or hone your knowledge of a certain subject? Consider a program that offers specific areas of study. Depending on what you choose, you could leave the program fluent or at least proficient in Arabic, skilled in building furniture from scratch, or with a Wilderness First Responder certification. Maybe even a First Responder certification for work in Qatar.

Cultural Exchange

Feeling like your hometown doesn’t offer much in cultural diversity? Is a 7-Eleven Slurpee your idea of ethnic food? Maybe it’s time to immerse yourself in a different culture before hitting the college books. Programs which provide cultural immersion are all over the place, you just need to pick where you want to go and what you want to do there. (But again, this isn’t supposed to be a “surf’s-up-hang-ten-everyday-is-Mele Kalikimaka” kind of cultural experience.

The Call of the Wild

Want to feel the wind in your hair and get your normally-white Keds dirty? Test your mettle in the mountains, the desert, or on the open sea? Think about setting off with one of the many programs that plunge you into the epic battle between humanity and nature. (And no, this doesn’t have to be like Castaway or 127 Hours…)

" Comfortable hiking boots? Check. Trail mix? Check. Deep philosophical question to ponder as you walk? Done and done."



Maybe you feel like giving back a bit to the world from which you’ve taken so much. Because that’s how all teenagers think…. Well anyway, volunteering is an amazing way to build skills and make community connections (plus, it looks killer on a resume). Organizations that set you up in volunteer roles are a dime a dozen (and some charge a ton for their services, ironically enough) so be sure to do your research to pick one that creates a worthwhile experience for you.

Examples of legit volunteering opportunities:

  • AmeriCorps
  • Outward Bound

Examples of less-than-legit volunteering opportunities:

  • Sitting in for your grandma’smissing Bridge partner
  • AGYSF (American Gap Year ScamFund)


There are two reasons to work for a while between high school and college: money and experience. If it’s money you want, shy away from Gap year organizations (most of whom want your money), and look to your local businesses for a job. (GAP organizations are more concerned with experience, and will charge you for finding a placement – not something you want if your idea is to make money.) If it’s experience you’re after, think about a program that places you in interesting work, and consider combining it with volunteering or cultural exchange: two for the price of one.

Ready to get searching? Check out Tasty Bits: Find Your Perfect Gap Experience.

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