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Top reasons College Admissions officers LOVE Gap Year Programs

By Alice Baines Hamblin
In Volunteering Advice
Apr 10th, 2014


If you’ve been keeping abreast of academic news stories recently (…an unlikely possibility, but bear with me) you can’t have failed to notice that across the country colleges have started to actively promote the benefits of taking an interim year between high school and college education. The gap year is on the agenda in a big way and here at Where to Volunteer we couldn’t be more excited!

What’s all the fuss about?

Over in the UK it has long been recognised that students stand to gain great personal and academic reward by taking a constructive period of ‘time out’ prior to University. UCAS, the universities application service promotes gap years on the condition that they are spent wisely, with admissions tutors openly recognising that more mature, balanced students achieve better results.

Simply put, a gap year…
1. remedies academic ‘burn out’, with some valuable time away from the books.
2. gives young people time reflect on future life choices and get some work experience under their belt, making for a better looking resume.
3. helps students gain essential skills they will need to live and study independently, manage their own finances and needs away from home.

Now UCAS’s American counterparts are catching on. Keith H. Brodie, a psychiatrist and president emeritus of Duke University, North Carolina was quoted in the Washinton Post recently saying that ‘freshmen who delay college for a year tend to be more altruistic and empathetic because brain development continues into late adolescence’. He is a strong advocate for a gap year so long as students have a mentor, a plan for intellectual growth and a commitment to do public service.

Financial Aid for Gap Programs

Some colleges have taken this thought process a logical step further and are offering cash incentives to students who opt for a gap year program before entering University. This year Tufts University in Boston, MA has introduced funding for up to fifty students to travel and volunteer overseas prior to their freshman year, and they are not alone. Both Princeton and the University of North Carolina are also offering financial aid to applicants who which to engage in a gap year program.

David R. Harris, Provost Professor at Tufts has said that gap year programs enable young people to ’develop their abilities and passions in ways that will strengthen their studies and experiences (at college), as well as their personal and professional trajectories’. He is among a growing number in academia who recognise that a constructive gap program allows students to ‘contribute in significant ways to solving pressing social problems while making discoveries about themselves and diverse societies”.

…and that’s where Gap Year Programs come in

These are organised trips or activities offered by well-regarded companies such as The Leap, which aim help young people plan a safe, enjoyable and (most importantly!) beneficial interim year. The very best of these are focused on community service or experiential learning either at home or abroad and come in all shapes and sizes, demanding anything from 6 weeks to a full year commitment. Students are advised to consult the American Association of Gap Years (AGA) or Year Out Group for recommendations of accredited, quality organisations.

Gap Programs make for a better college experience

Harvard has long supported constructive gap programs and has a 40 year history of recommending that students take structured time out prior to college. Over one hundred students take up the opportunity each year, postponing their freshman year by applying for deferred entry. Admissions officers have stated that in some cases the achievements and experiences applicants have gained during their year off have contributed to the decision to admit them to Harvard. They suggest that whilst no student should deliberately take time out simply to gain admission to college ‘time away almost never makes one a less desirable candidate or less well prepared for college‘.

Student newspaper The Crimson, reported a over decade ago that students involved in gap year programs had found the experience “so valuable that they would advise all Harvard students to consider it.” Harvard’s overall graduation rate of 98 percent is among the highest in the nation, perhaps in part because so many students take time off.

So, if you’re in the process of applying for college, consider seriously the benefits – both personal and educational – of engaging in gap year programs. Your college admissions office may well thank you for it!


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