The programs, which are popular in Europe, aim to remove financial barriers that often keep students from exploring different communities and challenging their comfort zones, the Associated Press reports.
Gap year programs have gained momentum in the U.S. with nearly 40,000 Americans participating in 2013. Princeton University has had nearly 100 students participate in the program volunteering in Brazil, China, India, Peru and Senegal.
Gap year programs vary widely between colleges in terms of what they will provide funds to cover.
Tufts University, which began their program in the fall, will pay for housing, airfare and visa fees for students, which can add up to $30,000. Students selected for the program are able to defer their admission for a year.
The University of North Carolina offers up to $7,500 for applicants. St. Norbert College in Wisconsin provides funds based on financial aid needs, but does not cover airfare.
Students say the gap year programs offer them a chance to see the world and be better prepared for life at college.
“A lot of kids are very burnt out after high school,” a participant from Tufts says. “Taking this time to be with yourself and see yourself in a new community and light will only help you to succeed in college.”
The student, who worked in microfinance while staying in Ecuador, says the experience inspired her to pursue international relations, something she didn’t know about before.
A student who participated in Princeton’s program volunteered at a hospital in Senegal.
“This experience taught me that everything I learn in the classroom will be able to help me when I leave Princeton,”he says. “It is easy at times to question the purpose behind all the school work. But seeing the value firsthand encourages me to push myself academically.”
Proponents of the program say students are able to get outside the bubble in which they grew up in and returned more prepared for the college experience.
“Students return to the classroom more focused, independent and confident,” Holly Bull, president of the Center of Interim Programs, which counsels students on taking gap years, says.
College offers to pay for students’ year off, removing financial barrier to travel, volunteer [Minneapolis Star Tribune]