College Game Plan
1 / 11    

Offbeat picks for Malia Obama's gap year


» more from College Game Plan

Offbeat picks for gap year

Malia Obama may be taking a year off between Sidwell Friends school and Harvard, but gap years aren't just for the children of presidents. More and more Americans are considering a similar adventure to explore a passion, travel, or just work to save money for college.

The American Gap Association does not have data on the exact number of students who put off college matriculation, although the group says that attendance at gap-year fairs is growing, as is enrollment in the programs.

Students planning a gap year typically apply to college and then defer once they are accepted. Increasingly, students are opting to take a year off and then apply, said Sally Rubenstone, senior advisor at College Confidential.

"They are not really sure what they want to do or where they want to be," she said.

Critics say these activities are a privilege of people who can afford thousands of dollars to travel the world, and many programs do have hefty price tags. Several of them also offer financial aid.

Harvard actually suggests that admitted students take a gap year, and Rubenstone said that colleges generally look favorably on such a move. However, you need to avoid frittering the time away.

"Whether it's trekking the Himalayas or working the fry–o–lator at McDonald's, it's important to have a plan," she said.

Click ahead to find nine programs that will add stamps to your passport, teach you life skills and expand your mind.

— By CNBC's Kelley Holland
Posted 6 May 2016

Hugh Sitton | Getty Images