Does Harvard Recommend a Gap Year

Does Harvard Recommend a Gap Year? Expert Insights and Advice

Harvard College is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and for many students, it is the ultimate dream to study there. 

However, the question of whether or not to take a gap year before starting college is a common one. Many students wonder if Harvard recommends taking a gap year and what the benefits and drawbacks of doing so might be.

According to Harvard’s Admissions Office, the university supports students who take a gap year before starting college. In fact, between 90 and 130 students defer their matriculation to Harvard College each year, and they report their experiences as uniformly positive. 

Harvard encourages students to take advantage of the opportunity to explore their interests, gain new experiences, and develop their skills before starting college.

While Harvard does not require students to take a gap year, the university recognizes the benefits of doing so. A gap year can help students gain maturity, independence, and a broader perspective on the world. 

It can also give them valuable experiences that can help them succeed in college and beyond. Ultimately, deciding to take a gap year is personal, and students should consider their individual goals and needs when making this decision.

Harvard’s Perspective on Gap Year

Harvard University has always been a strong advocate for gap years, and its admissions office encourages students to consider taking a year off before enrolling in college. 

According to William Fitzsimmons, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard, a gap year can be an “invaluable experience” for students, allowing them to gain new perspectives, develop new skills, and explore new interests.

The admissions office at Harvard is very supportive of students who choose to take a gap year. They even have a formal policy that allows students to defer their enrollment for one year, and they encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Students who choose to defer their enrollment are still considered part of the incoming class, and they are guaranteed a spot in the following year’s class.

Harvard acknowledges that a gap year is a beneficial chance for students to acquire practical experience, discover new passions, and learn new abilities meaningfully.

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They also realize that a gap year can help students avoid burnout and reduce stress levels, allowing them to return to college refreshed and ready to learn.

In addition to the benefits for students, Harvard also recognizes the benefits of gap years for society. 

According to Fitzsimmons, students who take a gap year often return to college with a renewed sense of purpose and a more significant commitment to positively impacting the world.

Understanding Gap Year

A gap year is a period taken by students after graduating from high school or before starting college to explore other opportunities, gain new experiences, and develop skills. 

It is also known as a “time out” or “burn out” for students who may feel overwhelmed or stressed from the academic rigor of high school.

The Gap Year Association and Gap Year Society provide resources and support for students considering taking a gap year. They offer guidance on planning, funding, and finding opportunities for gap year experiences. 

The Complete Guide to the Gap Year is a comprehensive resource for students and parents. It provides information on the benefits of taking a gap year, how to plan for it, and what to expect during the experience.

Harvard College recommends students think about opting for a gap year before beginning their college journey. The Harvard Admissions Office states that around 90 to 130 students annually choose to delay their admission to Harvard College, and they consistently report positive experiences.

Students who take a gap year often return to college with purpose, maturity, and a better understanding of their goals and interests.

Students can pursue various experiences during a gap year, including travel, volunteering, internships, or working. These experiences help students develop skills, gain new perspectives, and explore their passions. 

Students can also use this time to reflect on their academic and personal goals and to consider how they want to approach their college education.

Benefits of a Gap Year

Taking a gap year before starting college can provide numerous benefits for students. Here are some of the advantages of taking a gap year:

Learning and Growth

During a gap year, students can learn and grow in ways that may not be possible in a traditional classroom setting. They can explore new cultures, learn new languages, and gain new perspectives. 

This can help them become more well-rounded individuals and better prepared for the challenges of college and beyond.

Skill Development

A gap year allows students to acquire new abilities through various avenues such as volunteering, internships, or employment, enriching their skill set for future career paths.

For example, they may develop communication, leadership, or technical skills that make them more marketable to potential employers.


A gap year can also help students understand their lives and goals. It can give them time to reflect on their values, beliefs, and identity and think about their goals. This can help them make more informed decisions about their academic and career paths.

Maturity and Independence

Gap years can also help students become more mature and independent. 

Living away from home allows students to acquire crucial life skills like budgeting, time management, and problem-solving by being responsible for their lives.

This can help them become more self-sufficient and better prepared for the challenges of adulthood.


Taking a gap year lets students explore what they love, like traveling, helping others, or doing personal projects. It’s a time to learn new things and grow in areas they care about.

This can help them find more meaning and purpose in their lives and inspire them to pursue their goals with greater enthusiasm and dedication.

Gap Year Opportunities

Harvard College recommends students consider a gap year before beginning their studies. This break allows students to gain meaningful experiences and explore their passions and interests before commencing college. 

Here are some gap year opportunities that students can consider:

Work Experience

Taking a gap year to gain work experience can be an excellent way for students to learn about different industries, develop new skills, and build their professional network. Students can consider full-time jobs, internships, or apprenticeships in business, healthcare, technology, or the arts.


Volunteering during a gap year can be a rewarding way for students to give back to their communities and develop leadership and teamwork skills. 

Students can consider community service programs like Habitat for Humanity or international volunteer organizations like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Travel and Culture

Traveling during a gap year can allow students to explore different cultures, languages, and ways of life. Students can consider traveling within the United States or abroad to countries such as Europe, South Africa, or Taiwan. Cultural immersion programs like homestays or language courses can provide students with unique learning experiences.

Academic and Learning

Taking courses or pursuing academic interests during a gap year can help students prepare for college and explore their intellectual passions. 

Students can consider taking courses at a local college or university, studying abroad, or participating in language immersion programs.

Programs and Resources

Numerous programs and resources are available to students considering taking a gap year. Americorps and City Year are two organizations that offer service opportunities and educational benefits. 

Educational consultants, such as Rae Nelson and Karl Haigler, can also guide and support students planning their gap year.

Financial Considerations

When considering a gap year, it’s crucial to understand it can be financially demanding. Here are some critical financial aspects students should think about before making such a decision:

Cost of Living

Students should consider living expenses when planning their gap year, as these costs can significantly differ based on the chosen location.

For example, if a student wants to travel abroad, they must consider the cost of airfare, accommodation, food, and other expenses. 

On the other hand, if a student decides to stay at home, they still need to consider the cost of rent, food, and other living expenses.

Financial Aid

Students with financial aid should evaluate how a gap year might alter their aid package, as it can sometimes impact the financial assistance they receive.


Students who have been awarded scholarships should check the terms and conditions of their scholarship to see if taking a gap year is allowed. 

Some scholarships require students to enroll in college immediately after high school, while others allow students to take a gap year. 

Money Management

Students should also think about managing their finances during their gap year. Making and adhering to a budget is crucial to avoid running out of money.

Students should also consider working part-time or finding other ways to earn money during their gap year to help cover their expenses.

Planning for a Gap Year

A gap year offers students a valuable chance to acquire new experiences, develop skills, and discover their passions before entering college.

However, planning for a gap year carefully is crucial to ensure that it is a productive and meaningful experience. Here are some tips for planning a successful gap year:

Research and Explore Option

Students should research their options before deciding on a gap year plan. They can start by talking to their high school guidance counselor or a gap year consultant for advice and recommendations. 

They can also look for gap year programs, internships, volunteer opportunities, or other experiences that align with their interests and goals.

Set Goals and Objectives

To make the most of a gap year, students should set clear goals and objectives for what they want to achieve. 

This could include learning a new language, gaining work experience, volunteering in a community, or exploring a new culture. 

Plan Finances

A gap year can cost a lot, so planning your money well is essential. Students should find out how much their gap year will cost and make a budget. It’s also good to look for scholarships or financial aid to help with the costs.

Stay Organized

Students should stay organized and track important deadlines and requirements to ensure a smooth transition back to college after their gap year. 

This could include staying in touch with their college admissions office, submitting a deferral request, or preparing for the college application.

Parental Concerns and Support

Parents often have concerns about their child taking a gap year, ranging from financial worries to academic setbacks. 

Students must have open and honest conversations with their parents about their reasons for taking a gap year and how they plan to spend their time.

Harvard recognizes the importance of parental support and encourages students to involve their parents in the decision-making process. 

The university provides resources such as counseling services to help families navigate the decision to take a gap year.

One common concern among parents is the potential for their child to stay caught up academically. 

However, research has shown that students who take a gap year often return to school more focused and motivated. Harvard reports that students who take a gap year have a higher GPA than those who do not.

Another concern for parents may be the financial burden of a gap year. However, there are many ways for students to fund their gap year, such as working a full-time job or taking on an internship. Additionally, some gap year programs offer scholarships or financial aid.

Harvard also encourages parents to seek counseling services if they are struggling with the decision for their child to take a gap year. 

The university offers counseling services to students and families to help them navigate this important decision.

Returning to College Post Gap Year

Returning to college after taking a gap year can be an exciting and challenging experience. Students who have taken a year off from school often report feeling more mature, confident, and focused upon their return. 

However, there are several important factors to consider when returning to college post-gap year.

One of the most critical considerations is enrollment. Depending on the school’s policies, students taking a gap year may need to reapply to their college or university. 

At Harvard, students who have deferred their enrollment for a year are guaranteed a spot in the following year’s class. 

However, students who have taken a gap year for other reasons may need to reapply through the admissions office.

Another consideration is significant selection. Students who have taken a gap year may have had time to reflect on their academic interests and career goals and may have changed their intended major. 

It’s essential to consult an academic advisor when returning to college to discuss significant selection changes and ensure timely graduation.

Housing is another important consideration. Returning students may need to reapply for on-campus housing, depending on the college or university. 

At Harvard, students who have deferred their enrollment are not guaranteed on-campus housing but are given priority over new applicants.

Finally, being open and honest about the gap year experience is essential when applying to jobs or graduate school. 

Many employers and graduate programs value the skills and experiences gained during a gap year, such as independence, cultural awareness, and problem-solving skills.

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