The Rising Popularity of Gap Years in the U.S.

Although no one tracks the exact figures as far as the number of American students who elect to take a gap year (a year taken between secondary school and university during which students work, intern, volunteer and/or travel), there is evidence the gap year experience is becoming increasingly popular among American students.pagebreak

According to a TIME article, Projects Abroad (a company based in the U.K. that coordinates volunteer programs around the globe) has seen a quadrupling of the number of Americans who use their placement services to participate in a gap year.  The founder of, Tom Griffiths, says that 10% of the traffic on his site now originates in the U.S. – whereas five years ago, it was maybe 1%.

Universities are seeing an increase in the number of first-year students who are deferring enrollment for a year.  MIT, for example, has experienced a 100% increase in deferments over the past year.  Harvard, in the last decade, has witnessed a 33% jump in the number of students choosing to take a gap year.  Princeton, in 2009, actually solidified the trend by funding gap-year sojourns for 20 incoming freshmen each year (with a goal of extending the offer to 100 students or so per class).

The reasons for the increase in gap years taken by American students are not completely quantifiable.  However, there are some contributing factors described in a recent MSNBC  article on the increase of U.S. students taking gap years.  First, there has been an increase in awareness of gap years in the last few years, with the creation of such events as USA Gap Years Fairs.  Secondly, more research has been done that dispels myths and fears previously surrounding gap years.  For example, the fear that parents had about their children not resuming their studies after their gap years was addressed by the work of two researchers, Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson.  They found, in a survey of 280 American students who opted for a gap year, that 90% of students returned to university within a year.  Moreover, the work of Haigler and Nelson, according to the article, proved a gap year to be an asset.

Middlebury’s dean of admissions, Robert Clagett, in fact “did some number-crunching a few years ago and found that a single gap semester was the strongest predictor of academic success at his school” (as reported by TIME).   There do exist academics who hold an opposing viewpoint as to the value of a gap year.  However, the fact remains:  There is an upward trend in the popularity of gap years among American students.