As an SAT prep instructor for several years, and now as a high school career advisor, I have always made it a point to encourage any kid who will listen to take a year off after graduating high school to do something totally random before continuing down their career path.
It seems like the editors of the New York Times are of the same mind. Every now and then they'll publish a story about students who take a "gap year" in Ghana before going on to Princeton or Yale to study nanotechnology or microfinance.
I'm being snarky, but I really do believe that taking a year off before college was the best thing I ever did for my post-secondary education and my career. My instant best friend in college (and still one of my closest friends) had taken a year off to live in France. We were both just a little more mature, and a little more ready to get on with the whole college thing.
When I bring up The Gap to parents, they typically look at me like I'm crazy. But once I explain the benefits -- that you're likely to get more out of college when you're more mature, that it gives you another year to save for college, that you can apply for college now and defer your admission -- they tend to warm up to the idea.