Gap Year: Taking Time Off Before College (page 2)

By — National Association for College Admission Counseling
Updated on Sep 23, 2010

What About College?

Once you've decided to take time off, it's tempting to chuck the whole college search until next year. But that's not a good idea, for a number of reasons.

First, the college search and application process is much easier while you're still in high school. You have easy access to your school's college resources, your guidance counselor and teachers, and several modes of communication. You don't want to be filling out applications and trying to get counselor recommendations while you're working in the rainforests of South America.

Second, having your college plans in place can go a long way toward convincing your parents that you will go back to school after your time off. "My parents were scared that I would never go to college, but by applying I demonstrated my seriousness," remembers McElroy.

So go ahead and complete the college admission process. Then contact the college you plan to attend and ask that your admission be deferred for a semester or a year. Most colleges are very receptive to students who want to defer their admission. "Admission people across the country encourage the idea of time out before matriculation," says Bob Gilpin, owner of Time Out Associations (MA).

All of this can make you even busier than your classmates senior year.

"Taking a year off is actually more work because you should apply and get accepted to college as well as figure out what you are doing for the next year," says McElroy.

What Factors Should I Consider?

Rynick lists these questions for students to consider when planning their time off:

  • What do I want to learn?
  • How much structure do I want or need?
  • Where in the world do I want to be?
  • What kinds of things do I want to do?
  • What will I do when things get very difficult? What is my emergency plan?

Another big factor is your budget. Talk to your family about your plans and about what you can afford. Some programs cost very little; others can be very expensive. Don't forget to plan for living and travel expenses as well as program fees. Students on a limited budget could consider working full-time for a summer or semester to pay for a semester-long program later in the year.

As you research and plan, don't limit yourself too much. "Take a risk," says McElroy. "Living outside of your comfort zone is an important factor in growth."

"A year off is an adventure," says Rynick. "Don't expect it to be easy. Welcome the new challenges you encounter as you enter into the ongoing process of creating the life you want to lead. The real question of life is beyond college credit."

Resources for Planning Your Time Off


  • The Gap-Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off Before or During College by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson
  • Taking Time Off by Gail Reardon
  • Taking a Gap Year by Susan Griffith
  • But What If I Don't Want to Go to College? A Guide to Success Through Alternative Education by Harlow G. Unger.
  • The Back Door Guide to Short-Term Job Adventures: Internships, Extraordinary Experiences, Seasonal Jobs, Volunteering, Work Abroad by Michael Landes (not specifically for high-school students)
  • Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Directory of Third World and U.S. Volunteer Opportunities (9th Ed.) by Joan Powell (Editor)

Web Sites

  • A school counseling site, with a long list of program Web sites:
  • Time Out Associates: A consulting firm for students planning time off.
  • A large site about time-off options, including students' diaries about their year off. This is from the perspective of the United Kingdom, where gap years are very popular. Americans may need to "translate" a few things, such as references to money in British pounds.
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