8 Things to Know About a Gap Year

The best antidote for academic burnout could be taking a year off from school before college.

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After killing themselves in high school for four years, some students aren't eager to hit the books after graduation. And who can blame them?

The best antidote for academic burnout could be a gap year.

During a gap year, students can ditch the textbooks and pursue interests that just weren't possible when they were overdosing on five AP classes a semester.

If taking a gap year sounds intriguing, here are 8 things families should know:

1. Pursuing a gap year isn't as rare as you might think. Colleges routinely let students postpone the start of their freshmen year. Harvard, for instance, usually allows 50 to 70 accepted students to postpone their frosh start date per year. At Princeton, the number ranges from 25 to 30 students a year.

According to Kristin White, the author of The Complete Guide to the Gap Year, here are average numbers of freshmen who delay their college start at other leading schools: Cornell (50 to 60), Dartmouth (20 to 30), Georgetown (15 to 25) and Yale (30 to 40).

[Read 7 Questions to Ask When Considering a Gap Year.]

2. You can get another crack at your dream school. Sometimes students who were snubbed by an elite school will get accepted after doing something impressive during a gap year. For instance, a student who was rejected by MIT used a gap year to invent an environmentally friendly scooter that Popular Science praised. The second time he applied to MIT, he got in.

Harvard offered this take on admission chances for gap-year applicants on its website:

"Occasionally students are admitted to Harvard or other colleges in part because they accomplished something unusual during a year off. While no one should take a year off simply to gain admission to a particular college, time away almost never makes one a less desirable candidate or less well prepared for college."

3. Gap year opportunities are unlimited. Beyond volunteering opportunities around the globe, here are some of the broad categories of programs that students can participate in:

—Language immersion

—Conservation and sustainability

—Adventure travel

—Outdoor and wilderness activities

—Fine art and media

—Sailing and tall ships

To find out about specific gap-year opportunities, I'd suggest you read The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College.

4. Plenty of schools would love you to experience a gap year. Harvard is so high on the benefits of a gap year that it's been proposing this opportunity in the acceptance letters for decades. Princeton University launched a bridge-year program in 2009 that allows some admitted students to participate in nine months of university-sponsored service work at one of four international locations.

5. A gap year won't jeopardize college plans. Experiencing a gap year can be a blast. Who wouldn't want to monitor eagles in Swaziland or perform Shakespeare plays in England for a few months? Will students, who get these fantastic opportunities, ever want to buckle down and study again? While research is scant, anecdotal evidence suggests that students return to school more focused and mature and ready to start their college career.

6. A gap year requires preparation. Don't wait until the end of your senior year to begin exploring gap year possibilities. A student should start early to explore gap year possibilities. Some colleges will require a detailed plan for a gap year before they allow an accepted student to delay his or her freshman year.

7. Gap years can be pricey. Students can develop their own gap year agenda that can be inexpensive. There are, however, companies that can provide a structured program for students around the globe. Some of these programs can cost $10,000 to $20,000.

8. Some gap-year gigs even pay. There is at least one gap year program that I know of that will pay a student to participate. The federal AmeriCorp offers 75,000 Americans an opportunity each year to volunteer with local and national nonprofit groups. In exchange for a 10-month commitment, a student will receive $4,725 for college. Even better, some colleges and universities will match that award.

[Read more on AmeriCorps.]