It’s Gap Year Fair Season!

Since Malia Obama took her Gap Year before entering Harvard, there has been more of an interest in

What Does it Mean to Take a Gap Year?

Since Malia Obama took her Gap Year before entering Harvard, there has been more of an interest in these Gap Year options. Clearly, it was the right thing for Malia to do. Now is the time to determine if it is the right thing for your student. Students take a Gap Year for a variety of reasons. It could be burn out from academics and recharge before heading to university, a time to learn a new skill that won’t be allowable while in university, perhaps to be able to earn money for school. The list could go on.

A Gap Year, according to The American Gap Association (AGA) is an “experiential semester or year “on” typically taken between high and college or university in order to benefit the student in order to provide clarity and purpose so the student may have better educational study path, allow for students to improve earning and business potential,, allow for educational benefits outside the classroom as well as access to higher education’s resources.”

In addition, a Gap Year offers a students the:

  • Ability to broaden ones’ horizons and increase confidence
  • Opportunity to meet new people
  • Opportunity to learn a new language, or continue on to perfect a language and perhaps immerse oneself in the culture of the language
  • Opportunity to volunteer, continue with current volunteer situations, have a paid job and put that money towards college tuition
  • Experience to experiment wisely with a taste of independence


The University View of a Gap Year 

As long as Gap Years are productive and well planned, universities are looking at these experiences in a positive manner. Many programs offer volunteer work abroad and domestically, while others might offer apprenticeships, the ability to study art, offering home stays, language coursework, as well as wilderness training. There are hundreds, if not thousands of options.


Planning a Gap Year

Planning a Gap Year is an exciting challenge because of the wonderful program offerings. Some students plan their year in thirds, some by semesters. Often, the first portion of a Gap Year is more structured, with a bit less structure as time goes on. As students gain more confidence, they may wish to have more independence towards the end of their Gap Year. Some programs offer college credit, but take care with this, as students may be become transfer students if too much credit is gained and may have to start the university process over.


I have had several students taking Gap Years or Gap Semesters with a variety of focus: art in Florence, Italy, to a Where There Be Dragons combining language, wilderness and cultural awareness in South America, another student did  medical volunteerism combined with a homestay, language acquisition and team building with her Gap Year program. Finding a Gap Year is an extraordinary process, involving self reflection, thinking about accomplishments outside the realm of ones neighborhood. It is indeed a thoughtful process.


Outcomes of a Gap Year

It is clear that having a Gap Year allows for tremendous growth and development. Just ask anyone who has completed their Gap Year, as well as any college administrator who has observed students who returned from a Gap Year. These students are more apt to:

  • Be more focused on their major and finding that major often before stepping foot on campus
  • Complete university within four years
  • Take on leadership roles
  • Maintain higher than average GPAs
  • Exhibit confidence


Deferring University Acceptance

Generally speaking, students apply to their university and then defer with admissions. Admissions are usually the go to for deferral. Remember to have a good plan in place, as they may ask for this. In addition, students will most likely have to put down deposits in order to keep their place in school. Not all schools do these deferrals in the same manner, so what one school says, another may have a different process.


Universities Not Allowing Deferrals

Keep in mind that there are some universities not allowing deferrals, so double check with your university. For example, at the time of this blog, the University of California and Cal State systems do not allow students to take Gap Years (they may allow students to take a leave after a year in university), nor does University of Washington.The American Gap Association has a list on their website, but still double check with each university.


Gap Programs Offering Credit

Be aware that some programs offer college credit. As previously stated, some schools willingly take this credit (state schools often take this credit, private schools often have the caveat that no credits may be accrued while on a Gap Year). Students can still go on these programs, but may not be able to accept the credits offered.


Gap Year Fair and Schedule

Coming up this January, USA Gap Year Fairs will be launching from the East Coast and working its way west so a variety of programs to display their program offerings. Registration is free, entrance is free, so it can’t hurt to look and explore options at

If unable to attend, peruse their website to look at details of programs. Along with this website, look at American Gap Year to find programs meeting specific safety standards.


For those in Denver, where this blog is being written, our two fairs are January 28th at Littleton High School (new venue from the past) and at Peak to Peak High School on January 30th.


Remember:  Each student may have a different reason for taking a Gap Year, each university may have a different policy regarding deferral for Gap Year. Students need to look carefully at options available and look at this as a process, similar to choosing a university. There is a personal ft and a good match. It takes research, thought and time.


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