How to Make the Most of Your Gap Year

This is the second post in our two-part gap year series.

Once the decision has been made to take a year off between high school and college, many students and parents may be left wondering, “Now what?” Both students and parents can rest assured that there are numerous and diverse opportunities available for a busy and productive gap year. Developing a structured plan is the first step in making the most of your gap year.

Here are a few of the various options available for students during a gap year:

  • Find a job or internship in a desired field of study or a career field of interest. Gaining work experience during a gap year can help students explore their interests and affirm their future career goals. Earning and saving money over the course of the year can also be helpful in developing independent living skills, an important factor when students transition from high school to college. AmeriCorps is an example of a program that allows students to work in a career field of interest, develop skills, serve communities, and earn money to help pay for college.

  • Pursue a college fellowship program. Some colleges offer fellowship programs for students to travel abroad and participate in service learning projects during a gap year. For example, the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill offers the Global Gap Year Fellowship that “provides $7,500 to each student for use toward a gap year that is committed to service abroad.” The program is available for admitted students under the early decision deadline. Other examples include the Bridge Year Program at Princeton University and the Tufts University Tufts 1+4 Bridge Year Service Learning Program.

  • Participate in a gap year program. With the various existing gap year programs, students can participate in anything from farming in Vermont to empowering youth in South America. Descriptions and links to gap year programs can be found at the following website: Gap Year Programs - USA Gap Year Fairs. The American Gap Association is another resource for gap year programs. Some programs include high prices for participation, so it’s important to consider the overall costs of enrolling in a gap year program. Students and parents should also be cautious of programs that offer college credit. Earning credits during a gap year can potentially affect financial aid packages, scholarships, or grants when students matriculate.

All colleges deal with scholarships and gap years differently, so parents and students must be well informed of each school’s financial aid and scholarship policies. If a student defers enrollment at a college during a gap year and has been awarded scholarships, the student must ensure that funding is still available the following year. Some scholarships may be held over until matriculation, but others may not. Communication with admissions and financial aid officers is an essential part of effectively managing deferment and gap year logistics.  

A gap year can be a fulfilling and useful time to build confidence, reinforce strengths, learn and develop new skills, and prepare for college. Do the research, choose a productive path, and make the most of your gap year!

Chenoa Harrington