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The Key to Applying to College After a Gap Year

Written by

Mollie Welch

Gap program in Barcelona, Spain
  • Publish Date:January 3rd, 2021

If your plan post-gap year is to continue on to college, then you’ll need to find time to get those applications in.

You can apply to college while you’re still in high school, during your gap year, or after. Applying to college after a gap year puts you at a major advantage because you’ll be able to use all of the insights you gain on your gap year to inform where you apply and what you decide to study. 

How a gap year prepares you for college

The number of students in the United States taking gap years has skyrocketed over the last decade. One clear reason for this? Students who take gap years emerge more mature, confident, and prepared for college. 

According to recent studies, gap year students get higher GPAs and take on more leadership roles than their counterparts who head straight to college from high school. Experiencing different cultures and situations on a gap year makes you better at adapting to new settings like college or a job. Gap years also encourage growth mindset, which lights up your curiosity and desire to be a lifelong learner. 

More practically, a gap year can make college more affordable. Students who take a gap year are more likely to graduate in less time that the average American student (four years instead of six). Plus, you can get ahead of your coursework by earning college credits during your gap year program.

Applying after your gap vs. before your gap

The upside to applying to college during high school is that you’re on the same timeline as your peers and you can lean on your guidance counselor for help. The downside is that you have to crank out top-notch college applications in the rush of senior fall. 

If you’re applying to college during or after your gap, you’ll have the benefit of channeling the self-discoveries you’ve made on your gap year into your applications, making your college apps a better reflection of who you are and who you hope to become in college.

Tips for applying for college during or after your gap year

1. Collect your high school records and transcripts

Before taking your gap year, it’s a good idea to talk to your high school counselor about your plans. They might know of programs that could be a good fit for you, and they can safely stow away your records and transcripts for you until you need them. It should be easy for your counselor to store these records for you. 

Get in touch with your guidance counselor at the beginning of the academic year so they can round up your application materials if you plan to apply during your gap year. If you’re applying after, you can reach out on your own schedule. 

2. Identify what you want to get out of your college experience

A gap year can be the most productive break of your life, but like everything else, it’s up to you to make the most of your experience. Do you want to travel the world? Intern at a global organization to advance your career? Improve your language skills? Get a better sense of who you are and what you want from life? 

Once you determine your goals for your next step, it becomes a lot easier to figure out where to go to college and what to study. If you have an inkling you might be interested in marine biology, but aren’t ready to commit to majoring in it, get that exposure during your gap year. Travel to the Great Barrier Reef, intern for a marine biologist, or read a few books on the subject. 

What you accomplish during your gap year can set you apart from other college applicants. Honing your language, business, and soft skills shows college admissions offices that you have the conviction, inner drive, and passion needed to excel at their school. It also gives them a sense of how you might contribute to their community. 

3. Have your recommendations ready to go

Great recommendations from your teachers and counselors can be the factor that tips you right into the accepted pile. Recommendations that are written while you’re still in high school tend to be more descriptive and give a clearer account of who you are because you are fresh in the instructor's mind. 

If you end up needing to ask for recommendations a few years after high school, you might want to prime your teacher or counselor with some of your accomplishments, interests, and projects. 

4. Build your resume

One of the common pieces of advice you’ll hear from your teachers, parents, and peers is to use your gap year wisely. That doesn’t mean you need to plan out ever second in the world’s most detailed Excel document. It means that after you rest a little and recuperate from high school burnout, it’s up to you to make the most of your experience. 

Gone are the days when your teachers or parents could remind you of where to go, what to do, and how to do it all correctly. You’re charting your own path; there’s no instruction manual or cheat-sheet. Make your life easier by planning out what you want to do and accomplish in advance. With those goals in mind, it’ll be easier to go with the flow. 

An advantage of applying to college during or after your gap year is that you can include your new accomplishments in your applications. Keep a live document of what you’re doing, so you can remember where you studied, what your internship advisor’s name was, and which organizations you supported during your service learning projects. 


Taking a gap year is one of the best decisions you can make for yourself. You’ll explore the world, learn how to navigate new and different cultures, and make valuable discoveries about yourself and your future.  

Think about what you hope to gain from your gap year—what will you study, where will you go, what will you learn? By making intentional choices, you’ll set yourself up for success in college acceptances and beyond. 

The college application process can be stressful, and so can gap year planning. For more helpful guides and tips on how you can maximize your gap year, explore EF Gap Year’s programs.

Mollie Welch

At EF Education First, Mollie coaxes vibrant stories from our unique and wonderful student travelers. She has seen how this program transforms students and prepares them to take on college and the world. Outside of EF, she performs stand-up comedy.

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