What is a gap year?: Maryland students choosing to take a year off

gap yearFeature
Will Biche, 21, on his gap year

gap yearFeature
Will Biche, 21, on his gap year
By Hannah Anderson

Last year, while most of his friends were filling out applications for college and prepping their resumes, Andrew Wildermuth was making arrangements to move to Spain.

The 17-year-old from Edgewater is one of the increasing number of American teens who, instead of going directly to college after high school, are choosing to take a “gap” year, or time off from formal education.

Gap years are common among students in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, and the practice is becoming more popular in the United States. There is no record of the number of American students who take gap years, but the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles estimates that 1.2 percent of first-time college freshmen takes a gap year.

Some students spend their year off traveling, interning or volunteering, while others work and save money to pay for college. But the main characteristics of a gap year are the same; it is structured time off after which the student intends to return to school.

Jennifer Evans, guidance department chair at Broadneck High School, says students should look at a gap year as an opportunity to learn and grow.

“Many colleges look very favorably upon a gap year. Students who participate in a gap year add a different perspective to the campus community,” she says. “For students, it sometimes helps them to gain a better understanding of themselves and helps them in deciding on a career path.”

Evans says she has not seen a large change in the number of students participating in gap years, but it does seem that more students and parents are aware of the practice, so she thinks the numbers may soon increase.