Gap Year

Information & Programs

Getting Started
Why Take a Gap Year

Students take gap years for many reasons: to travel, work, volunteer, or engage with other interests. Most students find their gap year to be a deeply enriching experience – an invaluable opportunity to expand their comfort zones, gain real-world experience, and take stock of their values and beliefs.

And while the change of structure and perspective that a gap year brings are worthwhile in and of themselves, studies indicate a bevy of positive correlations between taking a gap year and performance and satisfaction in the classroom, personal motivation and sense of purpose, and job satisfaction following graduation.

Interested in hearing about the experience from a Penn student? Our Gap Year Ambassadors and student bloggers are other great resources. 

Funding a Gap Year

Participating in a formal gap year program can be quite expensive (typically around $13K for a semester or upwards of $30K for a year-long program). Fortunately, there are many ways to make a gap year affordable. Many gap year programs offer financial aid and scholarships. (You can find a roundup of gap year scholarships and grant opportunities for 2019-2020 here.) Outside of formal gap year programs, many students work for part or all of their gap year. For some ideas, see the "Work, Volunteer, and Work Exchange" portion in the options list below. 

Applying to Penn After a Gap Year

While most students who take a gap year do so after having been admitted to Penn, it's perfectly acceptable to apply during or after a gap year. Students applying to Penn while on a gap year should follow the same process as any other applicant to Penn – the Penn Admissions website can be a helpful resource. However, keep in mind that the Admissions Committee will also be interested to understand how you have been spending your time while on your gap year, so don’t forget to include those activities and experiences in your application.

Penn Support

While Penn does not offer its own formal gap year program, on average, roughly 50 incoming Penn students take a gap year each year. Learn more about the procedure for getting a gap year approved under the admission approval information of our main resources section. 

Penn Abroad also provides opportunities for students returning from a gap year to connect and build on their experience. Join Penn's global community and review returnee information on our returnees resources page

Below, you will find several gap year providers that Penn students have utilized for their gap years. These gap year organizations, and others like them, put together year-long and semester-length programs abroad in all corners of the world. Participants benefit from the companionship of a cohort of other students, the organizations' cultural knowledge and logistical legwork, and the structure of the programs' formal and informal curricula. Programs vary in structure and cost. Read around each organization's website for information on scholarships and financial aid.

Global Citizen Year

The year between high school and college is the most critical developmental moment in a young person’s life. Recognized by societies and religions alike, this transition – when done by design and not by default – can become a transformation. Each year Global Citizen Year recruits and trains a talented and diverse corps of high school graduates from across America and beyond and support them through a school-year long immersion in communities in India, Brazil, Ecuador and Senegal. As Fellows, they live with a local family and work as apprentices supporting efforts in education, health, and the environment. Through training, coaching and structured reflection our Fellows develop skills and perspectives that guide their education, shape their character, and inform their leadership.

Thinking Beyond Borders

Thinking Beyond Borders is a gap year provider whose programs aim to develop the essential skills and capacities students need to lead exceptional social impact careers. Each program immerses students in communities around the globe to learn about the world’s greatest challenges. By living with multiple home stay families, exploring a variety of topics, and engaging in a powerful curriculum, you’ll gain knowledge of local issues and global solutions.

Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons organizes gap year and semester programs representing 6 continents, over 30 countries, and countless languages, villages, NGOs, religions, host families, perspectives, and stories. Its mission is to nurture empathy and understanding across borders through authentic cultural exchange. Dragons strives to help participants develop the self-awareness and cross-cultural competencies to be active participants in the world.

Year On

Year On offers year, semester, and summer programs designed to take you away from your everyday life, uncover what’s important to you, and teach you the skills you need to succeed in college and beyond.

Outside of formal gap year programs, there are endless options for building your own gap year experience. But it's likely that you'll want to incorporate some aspect of work in your plans. Here are just a few resources to help you find opportunities for work whether paid, voluntary, or in exchange for room and board. 

AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in public service work with a goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community." Members commit to full-time or part-time positions offered by a network of nonprofit community organizations and public agencies, to fulfill assignments in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. The program is often seen as a domestic Peace Corps. It employs more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year. Volunteers enjoy a living stipend, health benefit options, and other benefits. 

City Year

City Year is an education nonprofit organization founded in 1988 dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. It is one of the participating organizations under AmeriCorps (see below). The organization partners with public schools in 29 high-need communities across the U.S. and through international affiliates in the U.K. and Johannesburg, South Africa. City Year teams are made up of 18 to 24 year olds, who provide student, classroom, and whole school support, intended to help students stay in school and on track to graduate high school. Volunteers receive health insurance and a living stipend that varies in amount by location. 

Idealist

Idealist is a clearinghouse for jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities at socially-oriented organizations.

STEPS

Information and FAQs related to volunteering during or as a gap year. 

Workaway

Workaway a site set up to promote fair exchange and friendship as well as volunteering and work opportunities. Connecting culture seekers, budget travelers and language learners with families, individuals or organisations that are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities. Volunteers work a few hours honest help per day in exchange for food & accommodation and an opportunity to meet others. Learn about local lifestyles and communities, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings

WWOOF

Founded in 1971, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a worldwide organization linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. As a volunteer (or WWOOFer, as they are called) you will live alongside your host helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer.

Looking for more options? Here are some other organizations that have collected useful resources for those looking to take a gap year.

Center for Interim Programs

Founded in 1980, the Center for Interim Programs ("Interim") is the first and longest-running independent gap year counseling organization in the United States.

Gap Year Association

Founded in 2012, the Gap Year Association is an accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap year program. Visit their website to learn about the programs they have vetted.

The U.S. State Department

Information on international travel, passports, and visa requirements

Middlebury Gap Years Page

Middlebury College, which has long endorsed gap years for incoming students, has compiled a great listing of volunteer opportunities, gap year providers, and cross-cultural experiences for students.