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Oh the Places You Will Go! Gap Year Options for Teens

While crossing the stage at high school graduation, fear fills the minds of the parting seniors.  A chorus of “don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip” is paired with “please don’t let my father yell ‘That’s My Boy!’”. As if these thoughts weren’t enough to encompass all that is going through the heads of these newly-minted responsible young adults, the realization that freshman move-in day at their chosen university is just 2 ½ months away begins to add to that sinking feeling in their stomachs.

Too often graduating high school students move the tassel on their cap while fretting about the plans they had thought through so well just a few months prior.  In this moment of panic, it may seem that that low-paying, non-benefit reaping summer job may just become a full-time gig.  Pair this with the thought of living at home until they’re 40 and you may just have a full-blown breakdown on your hands.  Before launching into “the world is ending” mode, it’s important for the student to take a deep breath and consider their options.

Macchu Picchu

Believe it or not, colleges have students asking to defer their offers of admission every year.  However, the reason for a deferral should be legitimate and the intention to enroll the following year should be genuine.  A common reason for deferring an offer of admission is a simple one: the student just isn’t ready yet.  Oftentimes a student needs a year to mature and grow as an individual.  Many students have a desire to travel, volunteer, or work so they can discover their vocational strengths before launching into an academic arena filled with uncertainty.  A great option for a student fitting this description is a Gap Year Program.

Carpe Diem

Taking a year off before heading to college is something that many universities actually encourage, including Harvard.  In fact Harvard’s Dean of Admission, William Fitzsimmons, wrote an article entitled Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation outlining the reasons why a student should take a year off before beginning their university studies.  According to Fitzsimmons approximately 50-70 students defer their entrance into Harvard to take advantage of opportunities such as a gap year.


Gap year programs have been commonplace in the UK for years and have recently been gaining popularity worldwide.  A booming market has been created for students wishing to consider gap year options including international travel, language studies, and volunteer work. A bonus for some gap year participants is that many programs offer college credit for participating.

Carpe Diem Grupo Maasai

One program offering participants university credit is Carpe Diem Education’s yearlong Latitudes ProgramLatitudes participants can study environmental conservation in Tanzania, scale “Mount Doom” in New Zealand, or learn Thai in Southeast Asia along with other students.  In addition, the Latitudes program includes a 12-week solo volunteer/study placement in the student’s country of choice.  Recent participants have studied kung fu in China, worked with street children in Guatemala, and mastered organic gardening in Patagonia.

Mount Doom

Another gap year program offering extensive travel opportunities for students is Where There Be Dragons. One example of a Dragons program is the Himalayan Studies Semester during which students spend 10 days in a Buddhist monastery, learn bronze casting in Kathmandu, and explore a rural Nepali village. Another program, The Rhythms of West Africa, provides students the opportunity to take drum and dance lessons, study the Fulani culture while in a home-stay, and explore human rights issues in Dakar, Senegal.

A Fulani Woman

Students interested in traveling throughout Central and South America will find value in LEAPNOW’s “LEAPYEAR” program.  Aside from being immersed in the Spanish language, students in this program will participate in a yoga and meditation retreat at the foot of a Guatemalan volcano, complete a 2-week service project with a local NGO in Nicaragua, and trek through the Sacred Valley of Peru to Machu Picchu.

Macchu Picchu

No matter what their interest, any student interested in taking a year off before college can find a gap year program that is right for them. Gap year programs provide students with the opportunity to grow and mature as young adults before beginning their university studies.  The opportunities to explore the world and volunteer make these programs a truly wonderful experience.

Kristina L. Dooley is the founder of Estrela Consulting, an Independent Educational Consulting firm helping families navigate the college and boarding school search processes. A former college and boarding school admission counselor, Kristina enjoys sharing her “behind the scenes” tips with families embarking on this exciting experience.  Kristina resides in Mexico CIty and can be reached via email at or online at  

More by Kristina L. Dooley

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