The Gap Year

What is a Gap Year?

The term refers to a variety of non-traditional pre-college experiences that high school graduates, their families, colleges and prospective employers increasingly value. Most are less than a year in duration and may involve a summer of adventure, a semester of service, significant travel, a unique or personally special extended activity, or a combination of these. Gap year is typically an adventure-full opening, a space for discovery in one’s preparation for adulthood – not a vacation, not a break, and typically not an easy alternative to continuing with one’s academic education. It is often but not always a personally designed experience away from the usual routines. Organizations, including Quaker groups in the United States and abroad, offer established gap year experiences. Several commercial firms offer counseling and other support, matching students with existing opportunities, and counseling students and families who choose to design unique programs.

What does a gap year experience allow you to do?

  • Discover, explore, or test a passion.
  • Experience growth-producing risk in a reasonably safe setting.
  • Take a sabbatical of sorts from classroom learning.
  • Put one’s strengths to work in a new setting.
  • Enjoy and grow from a significant change of pace
  • Bring an academic interest to life in a community setting.
  • Be productive, make a difference for others.
  • Have significant first hand experience in another culture.
  • Challenge oneself in ways that go beyond the academic.
  • Make a special commitment and take action.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Becoming better prepared for university studies.

Can a gap year be right for someone who feels confused or conflicted about applying to colleges?

For some, curiosity about gap year comes from a less clear place. The primary impulse may be to step aside from the routines of academic life. During the upper school years, despite the monitoring of parents, student advisors, and school counselors, some students become overly hurried, involved in too many things at once. The normal stress that is productive for many leaves others overly stressed. Midway through upper school, students also can become too focused on assembling credentials for college admission. New involvements excite and stir up energy for many. But others may feel unauthentic, sensing that they are only going through the paces. Planning and then experiencing a gap year can help such a student set a direction in life.

What are the outcomes of successful gap years?

Having the experience may hone strengths and uncover new interests. Sometimes eyes are opened to see what will become a life-long passion. Students usually return from a gap year more mature, having gained perspective; more experienced, having thrived in new contexts with new challenges; and readier for the rigors of college or university study. Greater self-knowledge bestows greater confidence and better readiness for undergraduate work.

Do colleges and universities encourage gap years?

University admissions officers encourage and support these undertakings, either after high school graduation or during the college years.

Do Friends schools encourage students to have a gap year experience?

Yes. Friends schools have long valued authentic life experience and do encourage families to consider the full range of post high school opportunities. College counselors and others at Friends schools see the increasing interest in a gap year experience to be a healthy and natural extension of a Friends education.

All Friends schools offer and some require short-term student-designed life-experience explorations of some sort (individual and group service projects, senior study, junior projects, senior projects, etc.). Friends meetings, agencies, and schools pioneered service as essential in learning, and a wide range of such programs are offered to current students, including experiences in local communities and experiences overseas. Student voice and choice is fundamental to these programs, and student voice plays a role in on-going improvement of each. Guided reflection on experience—a process that’s habitual in Quaker environments is similarly central in this tradition.

Quaker schools were also involved with those who founded the American Field Service (AFS) program, which for nearly 60 years has offered study-abroad experiences for high school students, including full-year programs, summer programs, and service learning programs.

Most Friends schools have worked with individuals and the families of students who seek gap year experiences. Several of the Friends schools have considerable experience over many years. Quaker schools invite families to explore gap year possibilities. Each school will offer support in ways that fit that schools resources and policies.

Gap Year Resources:

Study Abroad