Exploring Gap Year Options

By The Dunbar Team


Dunbar Thoughts on Gap Years 2020

Gap years have been a common practice in the U.K. and Australia for some time, and their popularity is rapidly growing here in the United States. Admissions officers have long recognized the pressure on high school students today and the stress it creates; they tend to appreciate the greater maturity and focus that can come from a gap year experience. This year in particular, as students face the prospect of a fall semester of online learning, gap years are looking more attractive than ever.

A gap year is just that, a year that is typically taken between a student’s graduation from high school and the beginning of their college experience. Some students also take gap years during their time at college. Typically, a student deposits at the college where they intend to enroll and then applies for a deferral. We are hearing a lot of interest in gap years this year as students seek to avoid the possibility of another semester of online classes and it would be wise to make sure you understand the parameters and application process for deferrals at your college as many may have to limit how many they approve. While we have heard a few colleges say that they intend to approve all deferral requests, most colleges want to get a sense of what your plan is for that time. Your application will be better received if you have a well thought-out plan for what you hope to do.

Gap years can be a time out to re-charge batteries after high school and pursue some alternative activity or activities that might clarify your academic interests and future objectives. For many students, it is an opportunity to examine and come to know and understand the answer to the question, “Why college?” In our experience, this period of reflection leads students to approach college more inspired and better prepared to invest themselves in their academics.

Most colleges will assume that the student will enroll the following year and will not use the gap year as an opportunity to apply to other colleges; some ask students to sign a request/contract stating that they will not apply to other colleges during their gap year, others may ask for a larger deposit and others may say nothing. While colleges typically do not permit a student to enroll full-time at another college during their gap year, many will allow deferred students to take courses elsewhere, particularly for no credit, while others take the position that taking courses elsewhere would make the student a transfer student as opposed to a first year. It is also common for colleges to require that students re-apply for financial aid following their gap year. The most important thing is to stay in communication with the college admissions office so that both you and the college are on the same wave-length.

In terms of what is available for students to do, the possibilities can seem almost limitless, although Covid-19 restrictions may apply through the fall. There are service opportunities at home and abroad, paid jobs and structured travel/experiential programs for one to look into. One approach we often recommend is breaking the year up and doing several things, perhaps including a period of paid employment to cover the costs of the more exotic opportunities.

The Gap Year Association provides a wealth of advice and resources to explore on their website here.

In addition to discussing gap year possibilities with a Dunbar consultant, you could contact a gap year specialist such as Holly Bull at The Center for Interim Programs, Gail Reardon at Taking Off, or Katherine Stievater of Gap Year Solutions. These firms can recommend gap year activities based on your interests and goals, and help you structure your year off.

Other resources include:

–  Children of Fast-Track Parents, Andrew Brooks
–  Coming Into Our Own, Mark Gerzon
–  The Complete Guide to the Gap Year, Kristin White
–  The Gap-Year Advantage, Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson
–  Success Without College, Linda Lee
–  Taking Time Off, (The Princeton Review) Colin Hall and Ron Lieber
–  Teenage Liberation Handbook, Grace Llewellyn
–  Teenager’s Guide to School Outside the Box, Rebecca Green
–  The Uncollege Alternative, Danielle Wood
–  Where’s the Map?, Beth and James Hood

And two articles on gap years produced by the National Association for College Admission Counseling and William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard College, Marlyn E. McGrath, Director of Admissions at Harvard College and Charles Ducey, Adjunct Lecturer in Psychology at Harvard Graduate School of Education:

NACAC – Taking a Gap Year

Harvard – Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation