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How to Earn College Credit During Your Gap Year

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In the past, gap years were pretty rare. In today’s college landscape, however, deferring college for a year after acceptance is becoming commonplace. The best part: Colleges are now very accepting of gap years. Some schools offer their own for-credit gap programs for admitted students, and many are willing to honor credits earned through certain third-party gap programs. This means students now have a chance to explore while gaining clarity towards your goals before starting college and still earning college credit.

Colleges with their own gap programs

  • Tufts University: Tufts created its very own gap year program. Their 1+4 Bridge Year Program focuses on volunteering and community service. Students can volunteer in communities in Ecuador, India, Nicaragua or Brazil as well as domestic programs within the United States. During the program, students are enrolled in a blended learning, for-credit Tufts University English course. Through creative assignments and interaction with their classmates, the course enhances learning and development while connecting other students across locations.
  • Princeton University: One of the most selective ways to do a gap year, Princeton offers a select number of admitted students the opportunity to participate in a nine-month, tuition-free volunteer program abroad. Participating in the Novogratz Bridge Year Program, students volunteer in Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia or Senegal. While abroad, Bridge Year participants study the local language, live with carefully selected families, volunteer in organizations serving the needs of local communities, and engage in a variety of cultural enrichment activities.
  • St. Norbert College: This small liberal arts college in Wisconsin offers big rewards from their gap semester experience . which offers a combination of service, adventure, exploration, and cultural experiences. Starting in New Mexico and finishing off in Guatemala, students scale mountains, canoe crystal lakes, hike volcanoes and live in the wilderness. They interact with the cultures in every location while completing three college classes from any major they choose and satisfying the college’s curriculum requirements.

Earn college credit through a private program

  • American University: Located in the international and globally minded community of Washington, D.C., the American University gap year program is designed to help students prepare for college and career preparation. Students intern three days a week with organizations like the National Geographic Society or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and also earn seven pre-matriculation college credits by taking one academic seminar and a professional development class at the universityAmerican University.
  • Carpe Diem: With Carpe Diem, students can travel abroad to a variety of destinations while learning and gaining college credit. Participants are accountable for documenting their experiences to use toward credits. In partnership with Portland State University, students can earn college credit (and use financial aid) while participating in a Carpe Diem program. Students can also transfer credits to a school of choice at a later date.
  • Youth International Gap Year Program: The focus of Youth International is for students to experience learning during travel and cultural exchange. Students travel to Asia and South America to stay in local homes, volunteer within the community, and participate in outdoor excursions. Through an affiliation with Western State Colorado University, students can earn college credits through complementary reading and reflective writing. Students do not need college acceptance to participate and can use the credits if enrolled at a later date.

Additionally, some colleges and universities will accept a gap year as an independent study course at their school. However, this kind of plan must generally be arranged and approved beforehand. If you can prove that the gap year you choose will help you reach your educational and professional goals, there’s a good chance your college may award you some credit. If they accept your program request, you will be required to provide proof once your year is completed. For some colleges it might be weekly video and email check-ins with an advisor. For others a research paper may be required at the end of your experience.

Gap years are more than time off from the rigors of school and study. If you plan ahead, choose the right program and coordinate with your college, it can be beneficial for you academically and personally.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.