Taking a Gap Year

What's a Gap Year? 


Traditionally more popular in Europe, a gap year is an opportunity for students to spend a year engaging in personal development. It has recently gained greater momentum in the United States as a viable choice for high school seniors. Students can elect to work, volunteer, travel, study, or do a combination of these activities. 

Students are encouraged to apply to college with the rest of their classmates during the fall of their senior year. Students should research the deferral policies at each school, including how taking a year off will affect financial aid. At this time they can also look into and apply to gap year programs. Once they have made a final college choice and feel secure in their decision to take a year between high school and college, they can defer their admissions offer.

What can you do during a gap year? 

A variety of structured programs, both nationally and internationally, are available to students wishing to take a year or semester before starting college.


Examples of US based programs:


  • City Year (an Americorps program)

    • 11 month service program 

    • Participants serve in urban school districts providing academic intervention in one of 29 locations nationwide

    • Finances: participants receive a monthly living stipend and paid health insurance, and are eligible for an education award at the end of the year valued at approximately $6,000


  • NOLS Fall Semester in the Rockies:

    • 3 month program

    • Program focuses on the development of leadership skills while living in the wilderness. Participants may be eligible to earn up to 16 college credits through the University of Utah in subject areas like Environmental Studies and Risk Assessment

    • NOLS offers additional semester and year long options in the US and around the world

    • Finances: Cost of the program is $13,815 (need based scholarships are available)



  • Eastman School of Music Immersion Program

    • 9 month program at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY

    • Provides an intensive music performance experience including private lessons, classes in music theory, participation in various ensembles, and community service opportunities. Students are eligible to take classes for college credit at Eastman or at the University of Rochester for an additional cost.

    • Finance: Cost of the program is $59,523 including tuition and room/board.


Examples of international programs:


  • Academie Charpentier Gap Year in Paris:

    • 10 month program in Paris, France

    • Program offers participants the opportunity to study interior design and graphic arts while being immersed in the language and culture of Paris

    • Finances: Cost of  the program is 20,000 E and optional room/board is 9,000 E (prices in Euros)


  • Young Judea Year Course in Israel: 

    • 9 month program based in the Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

    • Program offers academic coursework with an option to receive up to 30 college credits, volunteer opportunities, as well as travel

    • Finances: Cost of the program is $29,950 plus travel (some need based scholarships available)



  • Where There Be Dragons South American Semester:

    • 3 month program based in the South American countries of Bolivia and Peru

    • Program offers participants in opportunity to live with a host family while honing spanish skills and traveling around Peru and Bolivia. There is an option to receive college credit for language classes.

    • Where There Be Dragons also offers travel and language programs in other parts of South America as well as Asia and Africa

    • Finances: Cost of the program is $15,895 plus travel


Gap Year Considerations

Potential concerns
Potential benefits
  • Taking a gap year provides an opportunity to gain real life experiences.

  • The year break between high school and college can give additional time for students to set goals and find direction.

  • Students can explore areas of interest by immersing themselves in a foreign language or studying art or music at an intensive level. 

  • Students can participate in meaningful volunteer or paid work experiences.

  • Some gap year programs may award college credit to program participants, allowing them to have advanced standing upon entering college the following fall.

  • While colleges and universities do allow students to defer their admission for a year, many will not allow students to wait a year to begin using any merit scholarship aid awarded. 

  • The high cost associated with many gap year programs is something families must strongly consider.

  • Students who are not engaged in a productive experience with concrete plans both during and following the gap year may lose focus and therefore delay college further. For example, it is not recommended that a student move to a new city following graduation with no job or plan for the future.

Alumni Spotlight


"I have been attending Camp Ramah in Wisconsin since the time I was 9. There I have grown up hearing about counselors gap year plans. I learned about the program KIVUNIM and fell in love. Ever since, I have been sure that I wanted to attend this gap year program before college. On the program, I will be based in Israel taking 5 courses through Boston College and also exploring the culture and volunteering. These courses include Hebrew and Arabic. Additionally, throughout the year I will take trips to other countries.

I would advise those who are thinking about taking a gap year to apply to colleges as if they would be attending college immediately after high school and then defer for a year. Most colleges will allow you to defer admissions for one year after you are admitted. It will save you a lot of stress in the long run."

Rebecca Denenberg

Millard North High School, Omaha, NE, Class of 2021

KIVUNIM gap year in Israel, 2021-22 http://www.kivunim.org/

University of Michigan, Class of 2026

Helpful Resources

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  • The USA Gap Year Fairs series annually brings representatives from more than 100 gap year programs to visit 40 locations nationwide. Due to COVID, the fairs are currently virtual:

  • The Gap Year Association is a non-profit that provides a listing of programs with reviews from alumni, including those that have been accredited by the rigorous standards of the organization. Additionally, the website offers information on deferral policies of various colleges, financial aid resources, and research on the outcomes of students taking a gap year: