Get Your Teen Weekly Newsletter in your inbox! Sign Up
YourTeenMag Logo

How Can You Make the Most Out of College? Do a Gap Year

Leading up to college, Lenna Scott’s daughter started feeling overwhelmed. According to Scott, “She worked hard on her grades and was a competitive athlete, but she started burning out. She lacked confidence in decisions she was making about her future. We decided a gap year would hive her time to step back before spending such a significant amount of money on tuition.”

Scott’s daughter is currently finishing up a gap year working as an EMT in Israel as part of a program she found through her high school youth group.

Opportunity for a Range of Experiences

Most experts agree it should be a combination of experiences, including:

Paid Work:

A gap year doesn’t mean a free-ride, according to experts. Students should earn at least a portion of the fundraising.


Developing empathy for others is an important life skill. Volunteer programs can range from building houses and creating new water pipelines to teaching English and fixing environmental issues–all providing a better understanding of the more significant issues facing humanity.

Career Exploration:

Frequently, teens consider a career path until they spend time in that field and find out it’s not what they envisioned. Spending time working or volunteering in an industry that interests a student could cut down on wasted coursework and tuition fees.

Independent Exploration:

A gap year is a great time to experiment and explore life. Some students spend time at a yoga retreat, backpacking with friends, or visiting with relatives.


Some students may want to strengthen their transcript. Maybe they’d take classes in specialty fields of interest, such as photography or a language immersion program.

Planning for a Gap Year

According to the National Association for College Admissions and Counseling (NACAC), students should apply to colleges while in high school and include information about plans for a gap year. Some colleges give bonus points during the admissions process to applicants who plan to do something constructive with a year off. Others are receptive to deferring acceptance a year or even two. Or they may give additional merit aid to students participating in a gap year program. Some institutions also provide college credit for approved programs.

Colleges can treat a gap year differently, so talk early and often about your plans with admissions officers. There might be programs affiliated or approved by the institution. Do your homework with the college your child plans on attending before putting down any deposits.

Students should start planning their gap year toward the end of their junior year, according to Ethan Knight, executive director of Gap Year Association. He recommends looking at a wide variety of programs and marking the ones that seem interesting. “What sounds exciting is often the best indicator of success when it comes to selecting a program, but leave room for change. A gap year doesn’t need to be completely structured; and it doesn’t have to be a full year.”

Gap year programs run the gamut from structured group opportunities with peers to specific skill-based opportunities, to internships, apprenticeships, or job options. There are many resources to help find the right program, including Cross Cultural Solutions, Camp Eagle, and Verto Education.

Want more gap year articles? Try this one!

Parents should be extensively involved in the program selection process. “You should have veto authority on safety and security issues. And there should be a lot of conversations on communication requirements, costs, and expectations,” says Knight.

Whitney Fleming is a freelance writer, social media consultant and blogger. She is the mom to three teen daughters and resides in the suburbs of Chicago. 

Related Articles