Taking a gap year after high school can help you maximize your college experience.
The second half of high school tends to be laser-focused on college applications as you pile on extra-curricular activities and try to make it to every club’s yearbook photo. Even as you spend most of your time preparing for the next step, it can be hard to zoom out and think about the big picture of your post-high school life.
Taking the time to figure out what you want from life can help you plan for a better future. Is it important for you to see the world and experience other cultures? Do you want get work experience before entering school? Are you ready to pick a major?
By taking a gap year after high school, you’ll have time to figure out what you want and start to put your plans into motion. You can travel the world, engage in service learning, gain internship experience, or learn a foreign language.
According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year is a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one's practical, professional, and personal awareness.
In many cases, students take their gap year or semester right after high school before they begin college coursework. You can also take a gap after any semester of college, or after college graduation.
If your family has always expected you to go straight through high school and college then shoot out into the job market or grad school, it can be hard to imagine telling your parents that you want something different—even if that different thing will push you out of your comfort zone and help you make the most of what’s next on your path.
Gap years provide so many benefits that aren’t so widely known. A gap semester or year is a period of self-discovery and hypergrowth that can help you find place in the world. You’ll prepare for college—and in many ways, the rest of your life. If you need more help explaining the concept to your family, check out our PDF guide here.
In Europe, gap years date back to the 17th century when students would take a 7-8-month break from academics before beginning college coursework. The United Kingdom’s government is a huge supporter of gap years because they help students gain maturity and maximize their college experience. While gap year programming has evolved since the 1600s, the purpose remains the same: to help students develop or improve their soft skills, become more adaptable, and adopt a growth mindset.
Support for gap years in the U.S. has grown significantly over the last 20 years. Most educational systems now recognize gap years as a fast-track to self-discovery, an opportunity for growth and development, and a way of alleviating academic burnout.
Many people imagine a gap year as one thing: a year-long adventure right after high school. And that’s an excellent way to take a gap, but it’s far from the only way. You can take a gap year after high school, during college, or after college graduation.
The classic right-out-of-high-school gap is perfect for the new grad who wants to discover their passions and might be unsure of what they’ll major in when they get to college. This timing makes sure you start college with the maturity and confidence that comes from navigating new cultures and trying new things.
While in college
Taking a gap during college is a fantastic way to catch up, level up, or shift gears academically or professionally. Maybe you’ve changed your mind about your major and want to gain more life experience to inform your shift. Maybe you want to gain push yourself professionally with a competitive internship. Maybe college has been go-go-go, just like high school, and you want some time to focus on you.
As long as you don’t mind making new friends in the grade below you, this incredible adventure is the right fit for you.
After working so hard throughout college, you might find that a post-college gap semester or year is the perfect reward. It’s the perfect time to fling yourself fully into the world. When else will you have three months to a year to travel and discover new interests?
A lot of high school students don’t have a clear sense of what they want from life. How could you? It’s hard to know at 18 what you’ll want when you’re 45, especially when you don’t have a good sense of what the world can offer.
Some students feel overwhelmed by schoolwork and want a semester or year to discover who they are outside of the classroom. Enrolling in a gap year program that’s designed to help you discover yourself in the world is a perfect way to make the most of your gap year.
1. Alleviate academic burnout
By senior year of high school, many students are dealing with the effects of academic burnout. Your life has been centered around studying, getting good grades, and excelling at your extra-curricular activities so that you can get into the college of your choice.
When you’ve been on a train that’s moving full steam ahead, it might feel weird to consider hopping off to look around. But taking a break can relieve some of the pressure. Besides, a gap year isn’t wasted time. A gap year can be the most productive break of your life.
2. Experiential learning
The global education sector has relied on technology to facilitate learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been critical to helping combat the spread of the deadly virus, but virtual learning has also been difficult for students who thrive in hands-on learning and social environments.
The antidote to this year of online schooling is a gap year that guides you all around the world to experience new cultures and make vivid memories. Learning sustainable development practices hands-on from NGOs in Peru is sure to leave more of an impression on you than reading about them in an article or textbook.
3. Discover your purpose in life
In the United States, approximately 40% of college students graduate in four years; the average student graduates in six. One of the reasons for this is that students often change their course of study and needing to take additional classes or transfer schools.
By taking the time to discover what drives you, you can enter or return to college prepared to embrace your coursework and soak up every learning opportunity. Most colleges know the benefits of taking a gap year and many top colleges actually encourage students to take them.
4. Experience the world first-hand
Experiential learning is an incredibly effective way to absorb information. Real-life experiences can help you grow and develop as an individual. During your gap year, you can travel to the most far-flung destinations on your bucket list, immerse yourself in new languages and cultures, gain international business experience, and support service-learning projects abroad.
If you’re looking for a gap year program that can make all the above happen, check out our EF Gap Year programs.
Helen, seasoned traveler and EF Gap Year alum, offers her advice on how to live in the moment while traveling abroad—advice that she practiced personally…