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Taking A Gap Year? Here’s What You Need to Know

Written by

Mollie Welch

EF Gap Year students
  • Publish Date:January 2nd, 2021

Senior year of high school can be intense.

Mounting extra-curriculars, academic milestones, and college applications take up tons of time. The busyness of senior year can make it difficult to find time to actually think about what you want to do next year. 

You might be feeling burnt out or unsure of what you want to study in college. Maybe you know exactly what you want to do with your life and there’s a lot you plan to accomplish during a gap year. Taking a gap year, semester, or summer can help you recuperate, figure out what you want, and get ready to crush college. 

The main barrier to taking a gap year tends to be that some people don’t that it’s an option or what they can do on a gap year. We’ll help you, or the parent who has no idea what a gap is, out with that. 

What is a gap year?

A gap year, semester, or summer is time before, during, or after college that you spend focusing on gaining experiential learning. Rather than being an alternative to college, a gap year is about preparing yourself to make the most of college—and in many ways, the rest of your life. 

Your gap can be whatever you want it to be. You can travel, take classes, gain internship or job experience, volunteer with an NGO or non-profit, etc. Setting goals before committing can help you make the most of your time off. 

What can you do on a gap year? 

Your gap year will be completely unique to you. Each adventure can be geared towards your own growth and self-discovery. These are just a few of the activities that can make your gap year fulfilling and exciting. 

Travel the world.

Your dream destination might be a a U.S. national park or a backpacking tour of Southeast Asia. A gap year is the perfect time to go. When you immerse yourself in another culture, your understanding of the world stretches. You’ll make lasting memories, discover how you handle yourself outside your comfort zone, and challenge yourself. 

Bulk up on your soft skills.

On a gap year, you’ll develop the global skills that employers value most. Study abroad had a positive impact on 14 of the 15 skills most valued by employers in the U.S. and Europe, according to the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad Initiative. In fact, the majority of study abroad students surveyed saw major improvement in both “hard” and “soft” skills. The longer the program, the higher the improvement. 

Discover new passions.

For the most part, your life has been planned out for you so far. Do well in school, do the right number of extracurriculars, don’t forget to make friends and memories. Within that structure, there’s a good chance you didn’t find the issues you’re most passionate about. 

By leaving the expected path and venturing out on your own after a gap year, you’ll be exposed to new issues, cultures, and concepts. See what excites you and plan how you’ll integrate these things into your life in college and beyond. You might be interested in farming, surfing, filmmaking, cooking, or karate. Taking a gap year gives you a perfect time to enroll in programs that allow you to discover new talents and broaden your horizons. 

Benefits of taking a gap year

Enter your next phase of life more prepared.

Enter college a stronger applicant: more socially and academically prepared, with life experiences under your belt. Gap year students earn higher GPAs, take on more leadership roles, and graduate faster—compared to national averages.1, 2 

Taking a gap year also grants you the opportunity to think critically about what you’d like to study, enabling you to choose the major that fits you best. After your gap year, you’ll enter or re-enter college energized, refreshed, and focused. 

Decorate your resume.

A well-planned gap year can fill up your CV, which will make you stand out in internship and future job prospects. A year of volunteering, interning, learning a different language, gaining internship experience is unusual and very impressive. 

Become more mature.

It takes confidence and conviction to peel off from the pack and take a gap year, semester, or summer. During your gap, you’ll talk to new people from different backgrounds, navigate foreign train stations, and design your own time. That builds a lot of maturity, in fact, 96% of students who took a gap year reported feeling more confident and mature. 

In a 2015 survey from the Gap Year Association, students self-reported the positive impact the experience had on their personal, college and career plans: 

  • 98% Greater personal development 

  • 97% More mature 

  • 96% More self-confident 

  • 87% Better career skills 

  • 82% Expanded global citizenship 

  • 77% Clearer purpose in life 

  • 73% Increased readiness for college 

What do you need to do before taking a gap year? 

You’ll apply for college during your senior year as planned. Check in with the schools you’re most interested in about their gap year and deferral policies. Most schools are flexible and many top schools encourage taking a gap semester or year. For the school you commit to, you’ll likely have to write a letter outlining your gap year goals, which can be useful for planning out your gap year. 

Find a gap program that features most if not all of the activities you want to do on your gap year. Do significant research on the available programs, consult with your family and mentors, and assess your goals and vision for the gap year. Remember that no matter which program you choose, you’re the one in charge of living your best life on your gap year. 

Take a look at our EF Gap Year programs. Our international travel programs offer opportunities for language study, internships, and service learning projects in destinations all over the world. Our free Gap Year Consultants can help you determine your goals and design your perfect gap experience. 

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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