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Gap Year

How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs

Joseph O'Shea

Publication Year: 2013

With some of the most prestigious universities in America now urging students to defer admissions so they can experience the world, the idea of the gap year has taken hold in America. Since its development in Britain nearly fifty years ago, taking time off between secondary school and college has allowed students the opportunity to travel, develop crucial life skills, and grow up, all while doing volunteer work in much needed parts of the developing world. Until now, there has been no systematic study of how the gap year helps students develop as young scholars and citizens. Joseph O’Shea has produced the first empirically based analysis of how the gap year influences student development. He also establishes a context for better understanding this personal development and suggests concrete ways universities and educators can develop effective gap year programs.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I began this book after a period of great change in my life. My parents had both recently died, and I was trying to reconstitute my identity without them. I was growing increasingly reflective about my own life and development. I became motivated to understand how we come to be the people we are— ...

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pp. 1-10

The challenges of our time demand an educational system that can help young people to become citizens of the world. We need our students to be smart, critical, and innovative thinkers but also people of character who use their talents to help others. ...

Part I: Experiencing the Gap Year

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1. Reasons for Taking a Year

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pp. 13-23

Why do students decided to leave their families, their communities, and their countries to go live and volunteer for a year in a developing country often thousands of miles away from home? In this chapter, I examine the various motivations behind these students’ decisions to take a gap year and their motivations to stay and continue their work during the year. ...

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2. Changes in Themselves

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pp. 24-47

Gap year volunteers nearly universally commented on the profound, often life-altering impact they felt the experience had on their lives. As a volunteer teacher in rural Honduras said, “As cliché as it sounds, it was life changing. It changes the way you look at the world and the way you look at yourself.” ..

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3. Changes in Relationships

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pp. 48-70

Relationships played an important part in the gap year; in fact, volunteers sometimes said that the relationships they made were the highlight of their year, the way they learned the most about the country, or even the principal cause of their changes from the gap year. These relationships were wide-ranging; volunteers developed close friendships and “intense relationships” with local people, ...

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4. Changes in Religious and Civic Perceptions

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pp. 71-86

Gap year experiences frequently had an impact on the way volunteers view religion. Volunteers were often in developing countries and in rural locations where religiosity is high and where there are often religions other than the one they are most accustomed to. ...

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5. Changes in Ways of Thinking and Future Plans

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pp. 87-116

In earlier chapters we looked at how volunteers’ experiences with difference in gender roles, morality, and other cultural matters often prompted them to question their own culture, their basic assumptions, and their ways of being. For instance, one volunteer in China reported being pushed to reexamine some of her core beliefs: ...

Part II: Understanding the Gap Year

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6. Theorizing the Gap Year

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pp. 119-134

In light of the lack of educational literature on gap years, I struggled with situating my findings regarding the effects of gap years on volunteers within the context of theory. As a researcher, I was challenged to develop an integrated framework that could encompass the diversity of the findings; no single paradigm seemed to capture them adequately. ...

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7. Developing Citizens

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pp. 135-147

In review, the previous chapters have offered an in-depth study of the gap year experience for participants. They attempted to illustrate what was meaningful for volunteers—the reasons why they undertook the gap year experience and the ways they believed it had affected them. ...

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8. Designing Gap Year Programs

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pp. 148-170

All gap years are not equally educational. But when we examine the programmatic influences on volunteers’ experiences, we can begin to see how the gap year can be constructed as a pedagogical tool. We can attempt to design the gap year to maximize learning for participants, while respecting the culture and aspirations of developing communities around the world. ...


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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-184

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410371
E-ISBN-10: 1421410370
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410364
Print-ISBN-10: 1421410362

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2013