Is taking a year off a good idea?

Have you or your child ever even considered the possibility of NOT heading to college immediately after graduating from high school? Think about it for a moment. It’s liberating.

I am not suggesting not attending college. I am, however, suggesting the concept of a gap year; taking a year off between high school and freshman year of college.

Kristin White, author of “The Complete Guide to the Gap Year – The Best Things to Do Between High School and College”, explains that a gap year is not a vacation but rather it is “a break from formal education in order to become immersed in another culture, to volunteer domestically or abroad, to gain experience and maturity, to improve your skills in a sport, language, the arts or academics, or take on some combination of any of these things.”

A gap year experience has been common in England and Australia for decades but has only recently gained traction here in the United States. Parents have been the toughest to win over, fearing that their children would take this sidestep and never head onto college. But informal research has shown that “gappers” not only go on to college, but they do so with a greater sense of purpose and commitment. Most colleges and universities enthusiastically endorse gap year experiences. Harvard University’s acceptance letter invites students to consider a gap year experience … “Each year some admitted students choose to defer entrance for a year and find their many and varied experiences extremely rewarding.”

One student said he chose to take a year off, not because he was afraid of burning out, but because he was looking for a real-world experience beyond his home town. “I want to be more realistic and less romantic about the conditions people live in throughout the world. There are a lot of people who say they feel bad about what’s happening in the world, but they don’t actually see what’s going on. I want to have a better sense of who I am as a global citizen; I want to know the problems that are out there, so that I can prepare myself to deal with them in the future.”

His parents were supportive. His dad thought it was a great idea from the beginning because it was something he wished he had done after graduating early from high school. His mom was initially nervous about safety issues but has come around.

Gap years are not meant for everyone, but it is worthy of a family discussion to see if it’s the right thing for you.

Next week: Benefits of a Gap Year

 On My Bookshelf

“The Complete Guide to the Gap Year – The Best Things to Do Between High School and College”, Kristin M. White, $16.95


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;