10 Forward-Thinking Colleges that Offer Gap Year Programs

by Published

As you’re walking across that graduation ceremony stage to receive your high school diploma, you might suddenly realize that you’re not ready to jump straight into the world of college - you want to explore first. Maybe you realized that you don’t quite know what you want to study yet, or what school to go to, or what your goals are - and you want to spend some time figuring that out. Or most importantly, maybe you’ve realized that an education outside the classroom on the streets of other countries can sometimes be just as valuable as that Psych 101 class, and maybe—just maybe—you were meant to see the world. 

Man in forest with fist up in air

Get a head start—choose a college that offer sensational gap year programs 😍

Does that sound like you? Then you might be just the person to defer college for a year, and take a gap year abroad. And guess what? There are a select handful of colleges that will support you in your endeavors—just keep reading on to find out more!

Why attend colleges that offer gap year programs?

So why should you consider a gap year paired with college admission, exactly? Gap years offer students the incredible opportunity to pause and reevaluate what they want in life before immediately beginning college. While gap years were initially conceived as a year of travel before college, it has since become a chance to expand your resume and personal life experiences, so that you are even more prepared for college a year later. Many gap year programs offer students the chance to immerse themselves in other languages, do community service to areas in need, or learn about music, art, and food.

It is not just a year of light, frivolous vacation. It’s a chance to explore the world, to push yourself to your limits, to test yourself and see what it is that really makes you feel alive. When you attend a university that supports experiential education and taking the time to gain clarity towards your goals before college (like the ones listed below), then you know that when you eventually start college the following fall, you’ll be in community with like-minded folks.

Thanks to your forward thinking and plan for the year after your gap year, you’ll also have a peace of mind while traveling that not every gap year student is afforded. That means you can really focus on being present abroad rather than filling out last minute college applications or collecting recommendation letters on the fly.

Scenic mountain and lake view in Triund, India

Want to see these stellar views? Well Tufts University has some A1 bridge programs in india… what are you waiting for?! 🇮🇳

And, you’ll have a whole year to stock up on adorable souvenirs for your dorm room!

Sound like your kind of party? Check out the universities and colleges below, which don’t just offer gap year programs—they encourage them. 

10 progressive (and pro-gap year) universities

Although gap years are widely accepted as A Thing in countries such as Australia or the United Kingdom, other countries, such as the United States, might be slightly less understanding or supportive of gap years. That’s why it’s great to find out that more and more, universities in the U.S. are starting to not just approve of gap years, but provide programs for high school graduates/prospective students who want to defer their acceptance for a year. Here are a few progressive colleges that offer gap year programs for future students (and future explorers). 

1. Tufts University

It makes sense that a university known nationally (and globally) for its international relations department would take the lead on forging its very own gap year program. Tufts University has created an innovative “bridge-year” program that is focused on volunteering and community service. Students can give back to communities in Ecuador, India, Nicaragua, or Brazil; there are even domestic programs in the United States, which focuses on city-based outreach. 

2. Princeton University

In a competitive bridge program, Princeton University offers a select number of students the opportunity to participate in a nine-month, tuition-free volunteer program abroad. Students who give back to communities at any of the program locations of Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia or Senegal will be better-equipped to give back to, and be active participants in, the Princeton University community as well, when they return for their deferred freshman year. 

3. Florida State University (FSU)

Gap years aren’t just for the Ivy Leagues! Florida State University (FSU) highly encourages incoming freshman to take a gap year. Not only that, they even provide additional funding for gap year students in need! Pretty awesome, right? So go off and explore the world, then come back to Tallahassee to don your gold and garnet proudly.

  • Check out FSU’s gap year program details here
Person jumping in Salt Flats, Uyuni, Bolivia

Gain a clear life path (and view) when choose a gap year program in Bolivia with Princeton University! 🇧🇴

4. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC)

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC)’s gap year program is structured like a fellowship program, in which students receive funding for a gap year that is dedicated to service project abroad for a year. Students get to propose their own gap year location in their application, and explain as to why they’re passionate about pursuing this project in this specific location. 

5.  American University (AU)

Although not a gap year abroad, American University (AU)’s gap year program is located in one of the most international and globally-minded cities in the U.S.: Washington, D.C.! The program is geared towards helping students transition into the fast-paced life of college and career-preparation. Students have the unique opportunity to tackle internships with organizations such as the National Geographic Society or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, giving them invaluable life and work experience that they can carry onto their international careers. 

6. Elon University

For incoming freshmen, Elon University offers a gap year semester, for those students who want to start their college career in an “off-campus environment.” The program offers international leadership and service opportunities in countries such as Costa Rica, while still allowing students to pursue academic interests. 

Man carrying surfboard while walking along oceanside

American University will let you catch some major waves with a gap year program in Costa Rica! 🇨🇷#PuraVida

7. St. Norbert College

This small liberal arts college in Wisconsin offers big rewards through their Gap Experience. This program offers the perfect combination of service, adventure, and exploration. Students will give back through volunteer projects in New Mexico, they’ll push themselves while kayaking and hiking through Canada, and will learn more about the world around them through a cultural exchange program in Guatemala. 

8. The New School

The New School, a non-profit research university in New York City, offers a Global Immersion Program, in which students are encouraged to explore the Spanish language and local culture in Costa Rica. Students can earn academic credit while exploring abroad, with an emphasis on either social justice or environmentalism in Central America. 

9. Peace Corps

Not for the faint of heart, Peace Corps is a globally-respected program that brings American volunteers to communities in need throughout the world. Although not a university program, the Peace Corps is an incredible program that would truly set you apart in future college and job applications. Volunteers must tackle the challenge of living relatively self-sufficiently in remote, rural areas of countries that struggle financially and socially. It is a life-changing, life-affirming experience that will open your eyes to other ways of living, making you a much more globally-aware individual. 

10. AmeriCorps

If you’re itching for a gap year abroad but can’t quite afford it, AmeriCorps is an incredible opportunity based in the United States. Not only will students spend ten months to a year giving back to small communities through volunteer service, they are also provided room, board, and paid a stipend that goes towards their college education. Even better? Certain colleges and universities will match that stipend.

Get into college AND into trouble (we mean uh, adventure!)

A woman in a black hat is facing the river and forest in Mactaggart Sanctuary.

St. Norbert college encourages hiking and kayaking through Canada’s majestic views… why would you want to turn them down?!🇨🇦

These colleges that offer gap year programs are just scratching the surface. If nothing jumps out at you, what’s stopping you from talking to your dream school about deferring for a year and starting the following fall? Or, you could also consider applying for college after your gap year instead of before. The sky’s the limit!

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