With all of the stress that comes with the college admissions process, I can understand why a gap year might be appealing. Here's the thinking on this. You apply, are accepted at a college you like, you send in the deposit and then request a deferral of admission. (You might want to talk to someone at the college first, so that you know the school's policies on this.)
Then the student pursues a dream -- works on a research project. spends time building Habitat homes, finally gets comfortable and competent in the foreign language she has studied for years. It doesn't really matter. In theory, you then go to the college of your choice a semester or a year later really ready to learn.
Gap year has been a topic of discussion at The New York Times college blog. Middlebury's dean of admissions thinks it's a good idea. He thinks a gap year gives a student a greater sense of direction, and that translates into a more dedicated, serious student once the gap year is over and college begins.
Here are more thoughts on this concept.
Parents may not like the idea but it might make sense for a student who has reasonable plans for the gap year -- and who has been accepted and then officially deferred at the college of choice. What's a bad idea? Trying to apply to colleges during a gap year, especially if the student is traveling, or living overseas. It could be a logistical nightmare that turns the gap year into a really bad idea.