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7 Colleges That Offer Gap Year Programs

More and more college-bound students are taking detours before matriculating. Rather than heading straight to college after graduating from high school, some are taking gap years instead. While you might associate a gap year with going on vacation and delaying “real” life, there are many positive and fruitful projects students can pursue, from studying abroad to volunteering to working. 


In fact, while delaying the start of college due to indecision may be one reason to take a gap year, there are plenty of others, including:


  • a desire for personal growth
  • health reasons
  • family responsibilities
  • lack of finances
  • career indecision


According to a 2015 national alumni survey conducted by the American Gap Association (AGA) in conjunction with Temple University, 98% of respondents agreed that their gap years had helped them develop as a person. An overwhelming majority also said the year had increased their self-confidence, improved their communication skills, and helped them develop skills to be more successful in their careers.


The AGA also found that the number of students taking gap years or semesters is rising, with 30,000 to 40,000 students taking off one or more semesters as of 2017.


As gap years have become more mainstream, some colleges have even started offering their own gap year programs, to support students who want to take a year off in a structured and meaningful way. Below, we’ll look at eight of these programs and what they entail.


7 Colleges That Offer Gap Year Programs


1. American University Gap Program


How/When to Apply: After acceptance to AU, use the AU portal; Apply by July 15 (Fall start) or November 15 (Spring start)

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: Internship and seminar in Washington, D.C.

Is there funding available? No; financial aid is also not available, as students have non-degree seeking status.


Ranked #77 in U.S. News and World Report, AU has a 25.9% acceptance rate and an undergraduate enrollment of around 7,000.


In AU’s Gap Program, students live on-campus at AU in the heart of Washington, D.C. They participate three days per week in a one- or two-semester Mentored Field Practicum, also known as an internship. In addition to interning with a government, nonprofit, or business organization in the city, they take an experiential learning seminar in International Affairs or American Politics. Through these courses, they go on field trips, listen to guest speakers, participate in hands-on lessons, and work on service projects as a group. Students who complete the program earn seven pre-matriculation credits.


2. Duke University Gap Year Program


How/When to Apply: Accepted first-year students can apply by early May of each year; learn more about the application process here.

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: Independent projects or established programs through outside organizations

Is there funding available? Yes — $5,000 to $15,000


With a 10.8% acceptance rate and #10 ranking, Duke University, located in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. Though it has no established course of study or experience for its gap year program, Duke encourages students to participate in an established program or propose an independent plan for their year off, particularly one that promotes personal growth. Independent experiences may include unpaid internships, community service, personalized experiential learning opportunities, and others. 


For students wishing to partake in an established program, Duke recommends reviewing a list provided by the Gap Year Association.


3. Florida State University Gap Year


How/When to Apply: Apply by February 24, 2020, after receiving FSU acceptance

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: No structured program; see details on possible projects below

Is there funding available? Yes — up to $5,000 for approved Gap Year Fellows


Florida State University, located in Tallahassee, Florida, and has an undergraduate student body of around 32,000 and a 58% acceptance rate. The school is the second public university in the country to offer gap year funding for students wishing to travel, intern, work, or volunteer prior to starting college. There is no formal program, but in order to be eligible for funding, candidates must fill out a short application explaining their plans for their year. The experience must be sustained over one year, although it may be comprised of several projects, and it must emphasize service.



4. Princeton Novogratz Bridge Year Program


How/When to Apply: Apply by May 3, 2020

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: International study, cultural immersion, and volunteer work

Is there funding available? Yes — the program is tuition-free


Located in Princeton, New Jersey, the institution has a 7% admissions rate and currently ranks #1 in U.S News and World Report.


The Novogratz Bridge Year Program is available to members of Princeton’s incoming first-year class. Forty members of the roughly 5,000-person student body may participate each year. Students have the opportunity to spend their first year of college in one of five countries, which include Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia, and Senegal during the 2020-2021 school year. Staying with families, they will learn the language, participate in cultural enrichment activities, and volunteer. 


5. St. Norbert College Bridge Year Experience


How/When to Apply: not specified (contact info)

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: Travel and service-learning

Is there funding available?: not specified


A Catholic liberal arts school, St. Norbert College is located in De Pere, Wisconsin and has an 81.4% admissions rate, with a U.S. News ranking of #145 for National Liberal Arts Colleges. Its enrollment is around 2,000. Students participating in the Bridge Year Experience travel to locations such as New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Guatemala during the Fall semester, where they learn about the local cultures, take courses, and participate in service opportunities. 


6. Tufts Bridge Year Program


How/When to Apply: Apply at any point via the online application portal after applying to the university; only students admitted to the School of Arts & Sciences may apply to Civic Semester

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: Travel and community service

Is there funding available? Financial aid applies to Civic semester; need-based aid is available for 1+4 Bridge Year


Located in Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts, Tufts boasts an acceptance rate of 14.3%, with an undergraduate enrollment of around 5,500. It ranks #29 in U.S. News


Tufts offers two gap-year programs: Civic Semester and 1+4 Bridge Year. During Civic Semester, students travel to one of six locations as their first semester, after completing academic coursework in August prior to their departure. Then they live with host families, participate in local trips, and work with community organizations. 


Through 1 + 4 Bridge Year, students participate in community services projects across areas like health, education, and more prior to starting their time on campus. Sites for 2019-2020 include Brazil, Ecuador, India, and Uruguay.


7. UNC-Chapel Hill Gap Year Fellowship


How/When to Apply: Only open to students who apply Early Action may apply to the Fellowship upon their notification of admission to UNC-Chapel Hill (deadline March 1)

What Kinds of Projects Students Can Do: Independent project or travel

Is there funding available? Yes — $8,000, plus an additional $8,000 merit award for Global Citizen Year; the program says it will meet full financial need


The state’s flagship public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, with an acceptance rate of 26.9% and a ranking of #29 by U.S. News.


Students may propose an independent gap-year experience with coaching from the Global Gap Year Fellows staff, or participate in an immersive experience in Brazil, Ecuador, India, or Senegal through Global Citizen Year. All students receiving mentoring prior to, during, and after the program and will be connected with faculty who will provide additional assistance. 


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.