Gap Years and Deferral Years

Each year, a growing number of young people decide to take time away from the traditional academic path that takes students directly from high school to college. For some students, this means applying to college during their senior year, selecting among their acceptances by saving their space with a deposit, and requesting deferral of their matriculation (which colleges are generally happy to grant as long as the request is made by late spring). For others this means applying to college during their time away after graduation.  The term “Gap Year” is commonly used to describe both experiences.

As Stanford’s Dean of Admissions, Richard Shaw, notes in a recent article, it’s important to know that time off generally does not improve chances of admission to any particular school, but is often a great way to explore interests. Shaw cautions, “Most of the gap years are designated after admissions . . . I don’t want students to take a year off before applying because they want to enhance their chances of getting in. If that’s the purpose of the year off, that’s unfortunate. Because I’d rather have them taking a year off because it’s something they truly in their heart feel they want to do.”

A gap year (which is typically a year but can be shorter or longer), is a great opportunity for students to reflect, explore, solidify, and deepen interests, work, volunteer, travel, or take on independent projects.

Why take a Gap Year?

By taking this time, students have the opportunity to take a break from the demands of their high school and college experiences, and reflect thoughtfully on their goals and aspirations. From the Middlebury website on gap years: “[A]s earning admission to a top college has more and more become an end in itself, and not just a means to an end, we can easily lose sight of the primary goal of our education: to discover what it is we truly care about and want to pursue further, and thereby come as close as possible to realizing our own potential.”

According to the Center for Interim Programs:

  • Gap year students overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs which related to their approach to working with people and careers.
  • The highest three rated outcomes of gap years are:
    • Gaining a better sense of who I am and what is important to me
    • A better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living
    • Additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major
  • 90% of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year
  • 60% of gap year students said the experience either “set me on my current career path/academic major” or “confirmed my choice of career/academic major”

Examples of Recent Deerfield Students’ Gap Year Experiences

  • A member of the Class of 2017 spent the fall of her gap year taking classes in art, architecture, psychology and economics at Oxford’s Advanced Studies Program, and the winter and spring in Southeast Asia with an experiential learning and travel program.
  • A member of the Class of 2017 joined a junior hockey team for a year and went on to play hockey at the college level.
  • A member of the Class of 2017 spent her gap year in China, taking Mandarin classes, tutoring English, and working for an organization that helps advise high school students in Beijing on their college process.
  • A member of the Class of 2017 spent a summer working at a local coffee shop, and the fall at an internship at a school in her hometown. In the winter, she trekked to Everest Base Camp and volunteered in childcare and women’s empowerment in Nepal. She then spent three months in London interning for a start-up. She finished her year by travelling in Europe, Africa, and Russia.
  • A member of the Class of 2018 is spending his gap year working at a university as a special events intern for the summer, then travelling to Asia with an experiential learning and travel program in the fall, traveling through South America in the winter, and attending cooking school in Europe in the spring.

Additional Information and Resources

  • The Center for Interim Programs (CIP) offers answers to additional frequently asked questions here and here. Based in nearby Northampton, CIP offers comprehensive gap year planning services for a fee.
  • Talk to your college advisor! We can help you talk through whether a gap year is a good choice for you and help you begin the planning process.
  • offers a searchable database of gap year programs.
  • No Crap Gap Guides” offer student reviews of gap programs and planning resources.
  • Affordable Colleges Online offers free planning resources for international travel, volunteering, working, and taking courses.
  • Gap Year Fairs offer students and families the opportunity to meet representatives from various gap year programs.
  • Databases such as,, can be a good place to start if you’re hoping to work on a volunteer or for-pay basis during your gap year.