Instead of directly pursuing employment or graduate school after graduation, some students choose to engage in a gap year program. A gap year is an opportunity to gain professional or personal experience, accomplish goals, and/or explore one’s interests in the year graduation. Gap years can range from a number of different experiences, including a career-oriented position within a company to expand career development, a year of travel abroad to build cultural knowledge, or a financed research project of one’s own design.
Gap Year Programs typically include work in the U.S. or abroad in a wide variety of fields such as teaching, advocacy, community development, health care, immigrant services, social work, or sustainable development. Programs frequently emphasize philosophies of service to others, peace and justice, enhancing international relationships, and/or “the road less traveled.”
Many programs also feature a training program prior to the work period, community and independent living, practicing a simple lifestyle, and the ability to defer student loans.
In the United States, the practice of taking a "year off" remains the exception, but is gaining in popularity. Many colleges are now encouraging students to take time off, and some have even built gap year-like programs into the curriculum. Several high schools now have counselors specifically for students interested in taking a gap year. Taking a year out has recently become slightly more common for Americans, with prevailing reasons as a feeling of being burned out of classroom education and a desire to understand oneself better. Universities such as New York University, Amherst College, Princeton University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, Yeshiva University, and Reed College have formal policies allowing students to defer admission. Some formal gap year programs can cost as much as $30,000, but there are also cheaper alternatives becoming more widely available, some do this by offering room and board.