The Concierge Services That Craft Gap Years for Hollywood High School Graduates

Courtesy of Where There Be Dragons
From Where There Be Dragons

It's not too late to book a post-high school gap year, such as those taken by Malia Obama, Yara Shahidi and Bradley Cooper, architected by top accredited companies.

As the college admissions scandal highlighted, competition for the top schools is fierce. A well-orchestrated gap year can ensure students make the most of university life and give them a leg up on finding the right career.

If you’re looking for a legitimate way to give your kids an advantage when it comes to college — and life — consider encouraging them to take a gap year. Malia Obama opted to take one before Harvard, packing her time with an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Spain, trekking through Bolivia and Peru under the supervision of travel concierge company Where There Be Dragons and a stint at The Weinstein Company (before the news broke of company chief and alleged serial sexual harasser and rapist Harvey Weinstein).

Black-ish star Yara Shahidi took one, during which she launched a voting initiative, Eighteen x '18, that landed her a spot in the just-released Duchess of Sussex guest-edited September issue of Vogue; Bradley Cooper spent six months working on his French in Aix-en-Provence; Matthew McConaughey went to Australia; Paul Rudd and Mike Myers both studied acting in England; while Hugh Jackman worked as a teaching assistant in the U.K.

The long-standing tradition for students in Europe and Australia is also the focus of the aptly titled Gap Year, a British series that recently aired on Hulu (both Princes William and Harry took one); Netflix’s Cuckoo also relied on a gap year for its premise. Protagonist Amy, in the recent Olivia Wilde-directed Booksmart, threatens to take a gap year as does Hayley, the character portrayed by Sarah Hyland on Modern Family.

In real life, Hollywood families like The Simpsons writer Max Pross and his son have typical experiences with the phenomenon. "He talked all through high school about a gap year, and my reaction was always 'Get into college first, then it’s a gap year,'" Pross recalls. Ethan Knight, who heads up the Gap Year Association (the only U.S. organization that accredits programs) cites it as a common concern among parents.

"Gap years can be so many different things and can consist of such different types of activities and experiences," says GYA-accredited counselor Julia Rogers of EnRoute Gap Year Consulting in Vermont. A well-architected gap year eases from supervised time to independent experiences. Actress Mayim Bialik, who sits on GYA’s board, advocates including a social justice component, a core element of Tzedek America, an L.A.-based program she’s championed on her Grok Nation blog. Knight suggests including a mix of structured programs, career internships, skill intensives, volunteer work and paid opportunities, crafting memories and consequences that extend well beyond Instagram likes.

Pross' son Isaac got into Yale, then deferred his admission to study classical Indian music in Varanasi, India, followed by internships with Dub Lab Radio Station, Now Again Records and a coveted spot with Ludwig Göransson, the film composer and record producer who won this year’s Oscar for his Black Panther score. The exposure solidified his plans for a career in music.

For Jordan Abrams, daughter of Deluxe Media’s lead executive producer and director of the production for North America Erika Abrams, working on this spring’s Los Angeles Design Festival shifted her focus from law to public relations. Lanny Sherwin, artist and president of children’s record label Sandman Records, saw his son, who’s on the spectrum, blossom from indecision to independence.

While parents and children can cooperate in cobbling together their own vision (the GYA website maintains a list of gap fairs, which can also be found on USAGapYearFairs.org), a gap year counselor is often a better route.

"Finding the right fit becomes really important when you’re in the middle of the Serengeti with only six other people," says Knight, "So, while there’s an upfront cost, they can save you money in the long run."

Their work extends beyond the gap year. The $1,500 fee that nets the services of Marion Taylor of Taylor the Gap includes guiding post-gap year students as they transition back to the confines of the academic world.

Even better news for parents — and students — still reeling from the college admissions roller coaster? Gap year planning can be postponed until spring of a child’s senior year. Holly Bull, president of the New Jersey-based Center for Interim Programs founded by her father in 1980, who counsels students from Crossroads, Marlborough, Wildwood, Beverly Hills High School and Harvard-Westlake, has put programs together as late as August (at $2,800, Bull is the most pricey of the three accredited counselors The Hollywood Reporter spoke to).

"If they have space, students can get in as long as there's not some glaring red flag in their application," she notes. That being said, some programs, like the newly created The School of The New York Times, fill up quickly. Others are limited by how much housing they can offer.

It’s a misconception that gap years are only for the financially fit. Of course, there are certainly some pricey programs: Winterline’s nine-month program promises 10 countries and 100 skills including scuba certification; Niquesa Travel, the hands-on bespoke-travel service based out of London that arranged David Beckham’s sojourn up the Brazilian Amazon, is happy to put its vast Rolodex in service of tailoring an adventure for a group of teenage clients. But there are grants and scholarships that can defray the costs, including at Harvard-Westlake, which offers two fellowships (a list of resources can be found on the GYA website). Rogers cites Americorp’s City Year as one example of a work-exchange program and there are others further afield. 

A gap experience also bears other benefits that make the investment worthwhile: Gap-year students finish college in less time with higher GPAs. Plus, the emotional intelligence exposure that the real world unveils is a boost when students eventually join the workforce. Bull is certain that her stepdaughter’s time in Dublin clinched a job with IBM: "She said that was all they talked about in the interview."