What's a Gap Year?

A gap year is an experiential semester or year "on," typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.

Gap Years originally started in the United Kingdom in the 1970's as a way to fill the 7 or 8 month gap between final exams and the beginning of university. The intention in the UK for that time was to contribute to the development of the student usually through an extended international experience.

Gap Years came to the United States in the early 1980's through the work of Cornelius H. Bull, founder of Interim Programs. Since its transition to the United States, Gap Years have taken on a life of their own - now embodying every manner of program and opportunity imaginable, both domestically and internationally, all with the shared purpose of increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers. Since their broader acceptance into the American system of education, they have served the added benefit of ameliorating a sense of academic burnout. In fact, in a recent study, one of the two biggest reasons Gap Year students chose to take a Gap Year was precisely to address academic burnout.

Since the 1980's many articles have been written about Gap Years, but perhaps most notably is the article primarily attributed to Harvard's former Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons entitled "Time Out or Burn Out for The Next Generation." Since then, numerous books and articles have been written, most famously: "The Gap Year Advantage" by Rae Nelson and Karl Haigler. Please refer to our Reference Section for other great books and articles about Gap Years in the US.