What is a Gap Year?

(noun) An experiential semester or year "on," typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.

We view a Gap Year as a precursor to college, meant to benefit the student in the following ways:

  • Providing clarity and purpose. The student will have a better grasp on what they want to study
  • Improving earning and business potential
  • Access to educational benefits outside the classroom
  • Access to higher education’s resources
90% of students go on to enrol in a four-year institution within one-year of completing their Gap Year. Studies have shown that taking a Gap Year not only improves GPA in college, but also more significantly improves job satisfaction post-college [2015 National Alumni Survey]. In short, taking the time to figure out what success looks like is a sure fire way to be directed in achieving it.


What is the American Gap Association?

The American Gap Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit accreditation and standards-setting organization for Gap Years that is recognized as such by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. We continue to advance the field of Gap Years by collaboratively pioneering research on its benefits, as well as serving as an information and advocacy hub for university admissions personnel and educational counselors. Our primary focus is on increasing the awareness of Gap Years and their many proven benefits within the American educational system. While we believe that every student will benefit greatly from a Gap Year, we also maintain that a Gap Year is not the right 'fit' for everyone.



"Advocating for increased participation in Gap Year education through the meaningful accreditation of well-managed and quality organizations, the proliferation of Gap Year scholarships, and the continued research of Gap Year student outcomes."



To see more Americans taking intentional time away from classroom learning before starting their careers, in order to facilitate maturation and self-awareness. We believe that the life-experience gained from pre-university travel sets up students for success in the world of academia. Taking a Gap Year has been shown to increase college graduation rates, improve GPAs, increase participation in campus activities, and overall increase career satisfaction. Visit our Data & Benefits page to see the research - or ask any Gap Year alum!

Our partners in this vision include:



The American Gap Association is a 501(c)(3)non-profit professional organization that was founded in 2012. The reasons for the creation of such an association came from a lack of clarity around what a Gap Year is and to whom they are best suited. In short, many people have considered a Gap Year simply as "taking time off," . . . and frankly the statistics are pretty unfavorable towards college graduation amongst students who simply "take time off." The AGA's stance however, is that Gap Years are more than simply grabbing a part time job at your local yoga studio, grocery store, or Dairy Queen. While working can be an insightful and cost-cutting component of a good Gap Year, it in and of itself is NOT considered a Gap Year.

The American Gap Association is constantly developing a variety of resources for the benefit of Gap Year providers, students of Gap Year programs (both independent and organized), and for Educational Counselors.


Ethan Knight, founder of American Gap Association, Carpe Diem Education, International Carpe Diem Foundation

Ethan Knight
Executive Director of American Gap Association at TEDx

Ethan Knight,
Executive Director

Ethan Knight has been working within the world of Gap Years since 1996, when he took his own Gap Year to India, Nepal and Tibet. Back in those days the only options to taking an official Gap Year was through the Center for Interim Programs, and that's exactly how he first heard about this strange thing called a Gap Year. After an inspired talk at his high school, he started a conversation with Interim Programs to discuss what would eventually turn into his own sojourn. Ethan graduated from Willamette University - a small Tier 1 private liberal arts university - with majors in English and Philosophy, and a minor in Environmental Sciences. Immediately after graduating he went to work for LEAPNOW as an intern where his passion for education really took firm root. With the help of a few key mentors along the way, primarily Sam Bull, Ethan eventually led programs for groups of Gap Year students through Latin America and Asia, finally working his way up to Assistant Director of the organization.

After seven years at LEAPNOW, Ethan returned home to Portland, Oregon to found Carpe Diem Education While Carpe Diem began with just three programs, Ethan added five more over the next six years in order to create more options for a wider variety of students. During his tenure at Carpe Diem Education, Ethan also founded the International Carpe Diem Foundation (now Carpe Mundi) - a non-profit dedicated to the inclusion of economically disadvantaged students in Gap Year programs and higher education. It is currently the only non-profit of its kind in Oregon.

Eventually, after 6 years at Carpe Diem he recognized a need for a professional association amongst Gap Year providers. The needs of the industry were demanding a hub for information-sharing, development of best-practices, and objective evaluation. Thus, in 2012 he worked with many in the field to found the American Gap Association.

He's a fan of a variety of sayings that have emerged over the years of his work in the industry:

  • Passion is a better predictor of success than IQ will ever be
  • In the absence of information, people will create their own
  • Mankind, for better or worse, tends to recreate what we've known
  • Mankind can only dream as big as we've seen
  • Meet each person where they're at
  • The whole is much more than the sum of its parts

Nina Hoe, University of Pennsylvania, Gap Year Research, Institute of Education Sciences, IES, Ph.D, Study Director, Temple University

Nina Hoe, PhD
Director of Research,
American Gap Association

Nina Hoe, PhD
Director of Research

Nina Hoe works at the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University as a Study Director. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, as a fellow in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Predoctoral Fellow in Training Program in Interdisciplinary Methods for Field-Based Research in Education. Her dissertation is titled "Not All Types of Delay are Equal: Postsecondary Delay in the U.S. and Taking a Gap Year," and examined the effects of delaying college for different reasons, including taking a gap year. Using a nationally representative dataset, her research found that when all else is equal, students who delay for any reason have higher GPAs while in college as compared to students who enter immediately. Additionally, among students who delay, she found that those who delayed and traveled (as compared to those who delayed but did not travel, when all pre-college factors were equal) were more likely to complete a bachelor's degree or any degree, less likely to drop out, and more likely to have participated in community service. Nina's work is largely inspired by her own transformative experiences taking a gap year between high school and college. She also holds B.A. from Colorado College and an M.S.Ed. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Erin Barnhart, Ph.D  Director of Operations

Erin Barnhart, Ph.D
Director of Operations,
American Gap Association

Erin Barnhart, Ph.D,
Director of Operations

Erin Barnhart, Ph.D. has developed and delivered domestic and international service, service-learning, and volunteer engagement tools, trainings, programs, and resources for individuals and organizations worldwide. In addition to serving as AGA's Director of Operations, Dr. Barnhart is the Founder & President of Effective Altruism, LLC. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Building Bridges Coalition, on the Oregon Committee on Volunteerism, as an online instructor for AmeriCorps VISTA, and as an adjunct professor at the University of Oregon and Concordia University-Portland.

A former Fulbright Scholarship recipient and AmeriCorps*NCCC alum, Dr. Barnhart earned her Ph.D. in Urban Studies from Portland State University in 2012, having completed her dissertation research on global host organizations of international volunteers. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, a Master of Public Administration, and a Graduate Certificate in Not-for-Profit Management, all from the University of Oregon.

Jenn Miller

Jenn Sutherland-Miller
Open Source Curriculum Project,
American Gap Association

Jenn Sutherland-Miller,
Open Source Curriculum Project

Jenn has been traveling since before she was born. Educated by a variety of means, including two separate school years traveling during her childhood, she took her first solo summer gap at 16. Instead of taking a gap year, Jenn has built a gap life, traveling full time for over seven years, with her family, for the express purpose of the educations of her four children.

With a degree in Education from Indiana State University Jenn has built her career in the Alternative Education world, as an Educational Consultant and Curriculum Designer for families who desire to educate differently in some capacity. She has helped numerous families, and individuals, combine education and adventure and is a firm believer that travel is a life changing component of our educational process. She has educated all of her children outside of the system, from birth through university admission and is an expert in drawing rigorous intellectual education out of experiential learning. Having given her own children the benefit of the world as their classroom, she's dedicating the second half of her career to securing the same benefits for all young people. Her big goal is to get a Gap Year on every resume.

In addition to adventuring on six continents, Jenn speaks three languages, and is a prolific published writer and speaker on topics related to the intersection of education and adventure. She believes in the relentless pursuit of passions and is interested in helping people live their dreams.

Kevin Hermann
American Gap Association

Kevin Hermann,

Kevin Hermann was born on a farm in Portugal, and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After High School he informed his mother that he wanted to find out "what was real," and proceeded to vagabond about Oceania, South East and South Asia, and Europe. His travels cultivated an intense curiosity and excitement for the human experience in all of its expressions. Upon return, he studied English Literature at the University of Virginia; when his nose wasn't in a book, he was in the Art and Architecture departments. His thesis--"VoiceInSight," a 130 page book resulting from independent study--explored the intersection of experience and perception by weaving original artwork with literary voices that spoke to him throughout his studies; it was a manifesto redefining success, and a roadmap for one of the central themes of the work--"Becoming."

After University, Kevin took his second "Gap Year," seeking to connect more deeply with other cultures in order to best understand the human experience through a more dynamic lens. He seeks to understand other human beings by living alongside them, which has led him to work on farms, factories, kitchens, and children's homes. Stateside, he has led adventure travel trips for teenagers, worked as a renewable energy consultant, and written for culture blogs. He just finished his first volume of poetry, and is training to run his first marathon.

Kevin currently generates awareness for the Gap Year option by speaking to students in schools to rebrand the 'gap year' into a GO year--a year of Growth and Opportunity. By working with the AGA, he hopes to create more opportunities for uninhibited growth and experiential learning by piloting a grassroots movement that will connect local Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO's) with the AGA in order to provide students with more GO Year scholarships. Ultimately, Kevin intends to empower a generation of vibrantly alive go-givers who understand their role as global citizens, and who will do everything in their power in order to realize their vision for how the world can be a better place.