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The beauty of the gap year experience

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

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  • Gap year resources

    • – a clearinghouse for gap year programs.

    • – a nonprofit that provides gap year programs with a purpose.

    • - a traveling gap year fair with organizations, programs and gap year experts.

    • – a training program that provides home-stays and apprenticeships in communities across the developing world.

    • – the first and longest-running independent gap-year counseling organization in the United States.

    • – the leading global organizer of volunteer placements, including teaching, care, conservation, medicine, journalism, business and law.

    • – one- and two-year gap year and internship programs.

    • – a 2013 guide to gap year opportunities.


    • “The Gap Year Advantage,” by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.95).

    • “Taking Time Off,” by Colin Hall and Ron Lieber (Princeton Review, $13).

What are the advantages of taking a gap year?

For the student with a defined career interest, a gap year offers a terrific opportunity to delve into more depth. Many gap year students are able to perform research, volunteer at home or abroad, job-shadow, talk with professionals and get a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of a career in their area of interest.

Gap years are a growing trend. Estimates range from less than 2 percent to more than 10 percent of students in the United States defers college for one year. In contrast, more than 50 percent of students in countries such as Denmark and Norway take a year off before heading to college.

Avoiding burnout

Research has demonstrated that students who take a gap year are reinvigorated. Many students are tired of the high school grind and are disappointed that they’re not more excited about college. They are stressed out, burned out and need a break. One student said, “I felt like I was focused on college as a means to an end.”

Gap year students frequently return from their travels more independent, confident and energized to continue their studies. Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs, said, “Students often land in college more focused and often do better academically.”

Increased maturity

Colleges appreciate gap year experiences. Creating a diverse and substantive gap year program has helped students in the college admissions process. Students who were not accepted at their first choice and then choose to take a gap year and reapply are often accepted their second go-round. Admissions officers like students who are independent thinkers, and they also appreciate persistence.

Linda Connelly, a counselor at New Trier High Township High School outside Chicago, said, “People are afraid to do something different.

“Low achievers, ultra-high achievers, and those in between, can benefit from time off, to stave off burnout and indulge in a little self-discovery.

“It’s a time to reflect and not at such a fast pace. Students learn a lot, it helps them figure out what they want. I see kids blossom, find their passions.”

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.
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