For an increasing number of college bound seniors, gap year programs have become a viable alternative to the more traditional academic path. Opportunities for travel, employment, study and independent living can provide students with a more mature and refined perspective on their education and career prospects.

Here are four important questions for families thinking about a gap year for their son or daughter:

What exactly is a gap year?
Gap year programs provide students with an opportunity to delay their college enrollment and embark on opportunities in the U.S. or abroad. Programs can be oriented to academics, research, employment, travel or volunteering. The primary goal of a gap year is for students to pursue and develop academic and/or professional interests to better prepare them for college.

What’s the difference between a sponsored versus independent trip?
Independent trips are often the least expensive option, allowing students to seek out opportunities for study and/or work on their own. Sponsored trips are orchestrated by licensed student travel companies that provide local knowledge, expertise and structure. Programs are separated by geographic location and purpose; in other words, where you want to go and what you want to do. Remember that a post-graduate (PG) year in boarding school also falls under the gap year umbrella, providing students with an extra year of high school with a residential component.

Does the benefit outweigh the cost?
That’s ultimately up to your child. Sponsored programs are typically $10,000+, while independent programs can be completed at a much lower cost. The benefits of a gap year take many forms, some more tangible than others (learning a new language, discovering an academic or career focus, gaining new perspective, meeting new people or learning to live independently).

How do colleges view the gap year experience?
Admissions officers understand that not every graduating senior is immediately ready for a four year college. As such, most colleges will allow students to defer enrollment after they are admitted. Students will be required to write a letter requesting to delay their enrollment and outline the purpose of their gap year. This should be submitted by June at the latest. Students should check the admissions website for more specific details.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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