Why Gap Year?

A “gap year” is typically a period between completing high school and beginning college. This time can be either a semester or a full year away from traditional classroom studies.

While there are countless reasons to consider a gap year, the most important is that gap year students are generally better prepared for and perform better in college. The NY Times highlighted research on US gap year student performance, and the Sydney Morning Herald notes research demonstrating the same in Australia. Well-structured gap years provide opportunities to develop personal and social maturity, academic focus, and a sense of direction.

Colleges and universities throughout the US have followed the lead of Bill Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard University, who has endorsed gap years for many years. With studies showing as many as 50% of college freshmen dropping out before graduation, it is clear that opportunities for this type of growth can be crucial. Princeton University and the University of North Carolina have both begun offering funding for well-structured gap years as a means of improving the learning and growth of their students.

Gap years come in all shapes and sizes. They include participating in organized gap year programs abroad or domestically, working in a field of interest, civil service in the military or a national service organization like AmeriCorps, pursuing athletics, or traveling the world as a tourist.

Gap Year Myths

There are a number of myths about the gap year that are important to dispel.

  1. They are too expensive – Gap year opportunities range from those that cost the same as a year of college to those that will pay you a stipend and an education award to participate. Everyone can afford a gap year.
  2. They are only for students who aren’t ready for college – Programs and individual options vary greatly, offering opportunities for essential learning and growth for all types of students.
  3. There is a strong risk that students won’t go back to school – While there is always this risk, experts with decades of experience in the field estimate that 98% of gap year students who were on a college track go back to school immediately following their time away from the classroom.

* To learn more about the value of gap year, read our blog post: Discovering the Gap Year. Or, continue to the next page to read tips of Choosing a Gap Year Program.

Additional Gap Year Resources

TBB’s Gap Year Programs - Take a gap year with purpose. Go beyond just travel or service. Our global community faces complex challenges that require more than simple responses. TBB provides the skills and experience you’ll need to find lasting solutions. You’ll live alongside families and study with leaders working to address issues like public health and environmental sustainability around the globe. You’ll join a community where young people find their voices and learn to transform our world for the better.
The USA Gap Year Fairs – This national series of gap year fairs – co-directed by Thinking Beyond Borders and Dynamy Internship Year – serves as the pre-eminent source of information about gap year opportunities for US students. With 35 fairs nation-wide and more than 50 participating gap year providers highlighted on the website, this is a primary resource for anyone researching gap years.
TED Talk: The Most Uninformed Decision You Will Ever Make - Mark Lindquist presents a clear argument for the importance and value of a gap year as part of the college transition. It’s a great video and gives both parents and students the framework to understand the importance of this developmental moment.