So what’s all of this talk about gap year? Is that something that would be a good option for YOUR teen? Read on to find out.

How did gap years originate?

Gap Years started in the United Kingdom in the 1970’s. The purpose was to fill the 7 or 8 month gap between final exams and the beginning of university. The intention was to contribute to the development of the student typically through an extended international endeavor.

Gap Years came to the United States in the early 1980’s. Since coming to the United States, they embody every type of program and experience imaginable, domestically and internationally.

What is the purpose of a gap year? A gap year is considered to be ‘constructive time out between life stages’.

According to the American Gap Association:

“A Gap Year is a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, challenge comfort zones, and experiment with possible careers.  Typically these are achieved by a combination of traveling, volunteering, interning, or working. A gap year experience can last from two months up to two years and is taken between high school graduation and the Junior year of their higher degree.”

Students select to take a gap year for many reasons such as:

  • Realizing what your teen really loves before going off to college
  • Finding out what’s important in life before most of your teen’s peers do
  • Perking up your teen’s academic resume
  • Giving your teen the opportunity to ‘mature’
  • Getting an internship in area your teen is passionate about
  • Earning extra money for college. (
  • Feeling burnt out from high school and just needing a ‘time out’. (Check out Harvard’s former Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons article, “Time Out or Burn Out for The Next Generation.

Certainly a gap year is worth considering if any of the above particularly resonate.

What do teens typically do during a gap year?

The most popular form of gap year involves traveling, working overseas, and/or volunteering.

The 5 most popular gap year destinations (in order) are Thailand, Australia, USA, Africa and Peru. The purpose of one of these trips could be building an orphanage in Bombay, teaching English to students in Sudan, hiking in Nepal, backpacking in South East Asia.

Ultimately, a gap year is about exploring not only geographically but emotionally and even spiritually – primarily realizing that there is a world of opportunity waiting to be discovered.

How would my teen approach doing a gap year?

Doing a gap year does NOT mean putting off the college application process, so make sure your teen has been accepted into a college or university that recognizes gap years. Some colleges are supportive of gap years whereas many are not.  That said, check out the college website to confirm that they have a pro-gap year policy.

How would I find credible gap year programs?

The most respected resource for gap years is The American Gap Association. The AGA is an organization that evaluates and accredits gap year programs. The organizations and groups that are recommended by the AGA are carefully screened and vetted to ensure the best in gap year programs and education.

From the AGA website:

“Accreditation by the American Gap Association represents a commitment to the highest standards in safety, quality, and integrity. They have agreed to consistently abide by the Standards of the American Gap Association, which typically means that a student can count on an experience with the highest caliber of field leadership, the best degree of office support, and the highest standards of safety.”

Certainly, your teen can create his own gap year, such as an internship, as Malia Obama did, or a job to make money for college; however, going to the AGA site makes it easy to find fascinating accredited programs all over the world.

What are some of the available accredited programs?

Below are just a few of the many listed and described on the AGA site:

The Leap

Overland service and adventure programs departing every semester with shorter summer options. These programs include a mix of different project and adventure phases to keep students challenged and motivated traveling around a country as part of a Leap team of volunteers who join together from all over the world.

Pacific Discovery

Pacific Discovery offers semester and Gap Year programs abroad since 2001. Programs are overland journeys combining authentic immersion, meaningful service, and wilderness adventure – fostering empathy for other cultures, ethical and sustainable travel practices, and awareness of international issues.

Cross-Cultural Solutions

Cross- Cultural Solutions is 3 month service-learning Gap Year programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Students can visit multiple countries as part of their Gap Year through the Global Gap, Spanish Immersion, and Diversity of Africa Gap Year experiences.

Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons 3 month Gap Year programs in China, Tibetan Himalayas, Southeast Asia, South America, West Africa, Indonesia, Central America, and the Middle East. Fall and Spring departures.

Thinking Beyond Borders

A variety of Gap Year programs, including the 2-semester Global Gap Year, South America Gap Semester, and Asia Gap Semester combining deep cultural immersion, fieldwork with experts, and engaging readings and discussions. Fall and Spring semester options.

The above are just a sampling of the available structured programs. There are dozens more hopefully, one will truly speak to your teen if taking a gap year is on your teen’s radar.


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