American high-schoolers have traditionally launched straightaway into college, technical school or the job market post-graduation. However, bit by bit they are opting to do what many Europeans has done forever – take a gap year. In fact, 2006 to 2014 saw a 20 percent uptick in Americans taking gap years [source: Bridges].
Gap years started in England in 1967 when three students went from Britain to volunteer in Ethiopia courtesy of a company called Project Trust. In 1977, an organization was set up in the U.K. to provide volunteer opportunities between high school and college [source: Sherifi]. In 2012, more than 5 percent of accepted British university applicants took a gap year, while just 1.2 percent of U.S.-based students did in 2011 [source: Moy].
The gap year is intended to be a time of personal growth, where a young person can find out more about career goals or themselves by volunteering, interning, traveling or learning a foreign language.
U.S. gap year programs can be pretty expensive, to the tune of $35,000 or so, and the more affordable options are difficult to get into. Some colleges (like Princeton and the University of North Carolina) do offer gap-year fellowships [source: McPhate].
But apart from the cost, Americans are less likely to do gap years because they usually have many opportunities to volunteer and study abroad while in high school or college. There's also a fear among U.S. parents that if their kids take a year off, they may not enroll in higher education [source: Moy]. But the American Gap Association reports that 90 percent of the students who participate in their programs enroll at a four-year institution within 12 months of finishing their gap year. Further, 96 percent of students who've enjoyed a gap year say that the experience helped them develop as a person [source: American Gap Association].