by Luke Lorefice
Congratulations—you have just submitted all your college applications! You may be feeling relieved, anxious, and unsure of what is next to come. Some students and families may want to consider exploring a gap year.
First, let’s define a gap year as a period of time between completing high school and starting college when a student steps outside the traditional classroom experience. This allows students to explore the world, reflect on their personal values and goals, and prepare to take their next purposeful step in their life.
Gap year programs can give students a developmental advantage over their peers by providing them with an opportunity to expand their perspectives and gain direction that will give college more meaning and focus. For many students, gap year programs provide time to develop independence and confidence—key traits to have in order to be successful in college—as they pursue various fields of interest. Data from Middlebury College indicate that gap year students have higher GPAs compared to their counterparts who have chosen to attend college straight out of high school. In addition, Harvard’s Dean of Admission, William Fitzsimmons, has reinforced the benefits of a gap year to remedy “burn out” and help students develop more focused studies. Gap year deferments are increasing, not only in Harvard’s admission department, but also in colleges across the country.
Deferring University Admission
Deferment policies vary from college to college. We still encourage students to apply to college, get accepted, and then defer for the gap year; that way, students already have a plan for college upon gap year completion. The American Gap Association has a thorough list of the deferment policies of colleges and universities organized by state, but be sure to check with your particular colleges and ask if deferment is possible, even if one is not initially offered.
Most parents have concerns about the academic impact of a gap year, as well as the safety of their child on a gap year. Both are valid considerations. A March 2016 study from the Forum on Education Abroad confirms that students are actually safer on programs in the developing world than they are on college campuses domestically. The American Gap Association (AGA), for example, vets organizations according to a robust 56-page application that has standards from outdoor education, higher education, study abroad, service learning, and others in an effort to provide as much safety consideration as possible. AGA-accredited programs are among those that have demonstrated a commitment to the safety of students in gap year programs and have critical reporting requirements to ensure that student safety never becomes an afterthought.
Types of Programs
There are a variety of programs out there that can be beneficial for many students. Below are some examples:
https://www.globalcitizenyear.org/ - Develop strong leadership skills
https://www.outwardbound.org/ - Outdoor education
https://vertoeducation.org/ - Earn college credit and study abroad
https://www.winterline.com/ - Learn and improve upon a variety of skills