Previous Next

Photo by Brieze Levy

“Gap Year: A period of time taken by a student to travel or work, often after high school or before starting graduate school, as a break from formal education.” - dictionary.com

Many competitive colleges and universities encourage applicants to pursue a gap year option after graduating from high school.

The colleges believe that students who come to higher education with an extra year of life experience bring valuable perspective to the classroom.

“Taking a gap year in China was the best decision I ever made,” says Courtney Zenner, 26, who spent a year exploring China with the organization School Year Abroad.

“My experience in China exposed me to possibilities I never knew existed, taught me to think independently and allowed me to see the world.”

Courtney went on to graduate from Barnard College with a degree in Asian Studies and now leads semester programs in China and India.

Real world life experience gives gap year students a greater sense of personal direction and specific academic goals.

“I didn’t take a gap year, and I wish I had,” said Jessica Newman, 27, who is now an academic dean at South High-School in Denver, Colorado.

“Nobody knows exactly what they want to do when they’re eighteen years old. It’s smart to take time to figure out who you are before you rush into what you’re going to be.”

Gap years are popular with European and Australian students, but remain relatively rare in the Americas. However, in recent years more and more American students are preparing for college by taking a gap year.

Here are 10 good reasons for you to go for a gap year.

1. Learn About the World

Although gap years don’t have to involve foreign travel, most gap year students seize the opportunity to travel abroad.

Young people are able to figure out who they are and what inspires them.

This firsthand experience of unfamiliar cultures offers profound lessons, especially for curious and motivated young people.

After all, engaged travel is one of the best forms of genuine education.

2. Learn About Yourself

For students who grew up in a structured environment with clearly defined social, athletic and academic goals, gap years offer valuable personal freedom.

Young people are able to figure out who they are and what inspires them. During the gap year, they begin to emerge as self-actualized adults.

3. Have Fun

You only live once. A gap year bursting with travel, adventure, exploration and self-discovery can be a life-changing and intensely memorable experience.

4. Overcome Challenges

Make no mistake – a gap year isn’t time to slack off or take a vacation.

Gap year students usually work, volunteer or undertake self-directed service projects.

For many students, especially those from sheltered backgrounds, the gap year is a time to learn how to get along in the real world. This process isn’t always easy, but it is an essential part of growing up.

Photo by Adam Brooks

5. Save Money

There’s a common perception that gap years are only for wealthy students.

However, taking a gap year can actually save you money in the long run. Gap year students often work part-time as they travel, or volunteer for organizations that cover their expenses.

At the other end of the spectrum, structured gap year programs often offer college credit and cost less than college tuition.

The kicker is that by taking a gap year, students are much more likely to know what they want to study in college. Clear academic and career goals keep students from aimlessly drifting through 4 years of college and 3 years of graduate school at upwards of $40,000 per year.

6. Improve Your College Admission Chances

Imagine an admissions officer trying to decide between two applicants.

Both applicants boast impressive grades, scored high on the SATs, are highly recommended by their teachers and played varsity field hockey.

However, one applicant has volunteered for 8 months in East Africa, speaks some Swahili and is passionate about public health issues in developing countries.

Who do you think the admissions officer would choose?

7. Avoid the Social Pitfalls of College

Students who arrive at college with a full year of life experience under their belts are less likely to engage in risky behavior than students for whom college is their first intoxicating dose of freedom from parental supervision.

On this note, gap year students often become effective role models for their college classmates.

Photo by Camille Albouy

8. Find Your Academic Niche

College can be an opportunity to explore a wide range of academic disciplines, but students will get a lot more out of their education if they have at least a general idea of what they want to study, and what career their expensive education will prepare them for.

9. Learn A Foreign Language

Proficiency in a foreign language is an invaluable skill for young people in today’s interconnected world.

Living, working and traveling overseas is the best way to learn a foreign language, which means that gap year students who supplement their high-school Spanish with travel in Bolivia have a serious advantage over their peers.

10. Get Some Serious Perspective

Education, at its core, is about accumulating intimate knowledge of the world through a wide range of life experiences.

Nicholas Kristof
, a Rhodes scholar, Pulitzer Prize winning author and star columnist for the New York Times has this to say about gap years:

The bottom line is that you’ll almost certainly learn more from a gap year than you will in any single year in college.

Community Connection

I personally recommend the gap year programs offered by Where There Be Dragons, an educational youth travel organization that specializes in cultural immersion in developing countries.

Trip Planning

 

About The Author

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson is a long-time contributor and former contributing editor at Matador Network.

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    Tim-

    Great article. I never studied abroad or took a gap year and if I changed anything about my past, it would be to have done both.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    Good one, Tim.

  • bumblingbill

    Wow, good work – it gives people an opportunity to fight their corner when in battle with the parents. It’s hard to explain why something like this would be rewarding and you have nicely summed it up. Some really useful Gap Year sites out there; Gapyear.com, Realgap.co.uk & Gap-year.com

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      thanks for the links

  • http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com Sherry Ott

    Nice article. However someone needs to tell Jessica Newman that there’s nothing stopping her from taking her gap year now…but she can call it a career break! You get many of the same benefits and in the end it can help your career! I did a career break after 14 yrs of working – I called it an adult gap year.

    Everyone – college student and ‘ladder climber’ needs reason #10!

    • http://wheretherebedragons.com Tim Patterson

      That’s a really good point, Sherry!

  • http://blog.babeltech.de Babel

    so Jessica – move on ;)

    nice article! i hope i will take a gapyear after my apprenticeship 2011! maybe australia? :) n8

  • http://www.yearoutgroup.org Richard Oliver

    This is a great article and most pertinent in these difficult economic times. I would add another major advantage: the skills and experience gained on a gap year will significantly improve your employability.
    The UK has a tradition of young people taking a gap year between school and college that is still gaining in popularity. Now we are seeing more graduates taking time out to do something useful, improve their employability and gain an advantage over their peers. We are also seeing a in increased take up by those taking a sabbatical or career break.
    Many who contemplate a gap year find it difficult to know where to start and how to select a suitable and worthwhile project that best suits their unique needs. It was for this reason that Year Out Group was formed nearly ten years ago. It offers useful advice and a wide variety of placements in over 90 countries.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      Thanks for the comment, Richard. Year Out looks very interesting and I’d love to profile it on Matador Abroad.

  • http://byteresawu.com Teresa

    This is making me wish *I* took a gap year instead of jumping straight into college. Maybe I can take a gap year AFTER college? As in, a gap between college and a career? Not that I would have the budget to do so, but hey…

  • Pingback: Happenchance » Week in Review

  • http://olgakhazan.com Olga

    Definitely. When I studied abroad in England, many of my British classmates had taken gap years, and they had a lot more direction and focus because of it. But then again, it’s never too late to fill ‘gaps’ in your career, plans and life with travel!

  • Sarah Vazquez

    So true, so true!

    Taking a “Year On” has been the best decision I’ve made.
    I WWOOFed in France (WWOOF.org) and did an experiential education program in Nepal with Dragons (WhereThereBeDragons.com).

    This article is serious amo for battling with any parent hesitation. Great!

  • http://www.elcasalbarcelona.com John Rosen

    If you want to get to Europe on your gap year and if you know a little Spanish, check out El Casal Barcelona. It’s small, it’s well-organized and it’s fun. “Fun” should one of your top priorities as a gapper! El Casal has a good blend of structure and free time to grow and explore. (“Growing and exploring” are right up there with “fun”!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=868280402 Amelia Tang

    Hello Tim Patterson! (:

    brilliant article you got here, I truly appreciate the time & effort you took to produce this! ((:

    What got you started working with Where there be Dragons? (love the name by the way)

    I’m from a really traditional Chinese family in conventional Singapore, parents’re so angry. So, may I ask a few questions which they raised in defence? If you don’t mind, the questions are in the following paragraph. Thank a ton Tim, this would be immensely appreciated’

    1. How would you be more certain of what you want after one year? One year may not be enough, and anyway only after you enter the university and try out the different courses would you be more certain.

    2. Why can’t you multitask, and do volunteering or whatever you want to do alongside university? That’s what all my friends daughters are doing, and they are doing so well in university.

    3. You’re going to enter society one year later, and you’ll be severely disadvantaged in that way.

    The answers may be obvious to some of these questions, yet I am unable to phrase my answers as eloquently as you have in your article above. In earnest appeal to you, I express a sincere wish to receive your reply.

    thank you! (:

    humbly,
    amelia

    • Mlperry90

      Hello Tim Patterson! (:

      brilliant article you got here, I truly appreciate the time & effort you took to produce this! ((:

      What got you started working with Where there be Dragons? (love the name by the way)

      I’m from a really traditional Chinese family in conventional Singapore, parents’re so angry. So, may I ask a few questions which they raised in defence? If you don’t mind, the questions are in the following paragraph. Thank a ton Tim, this would be immensely appreciated’

      1. How would you be more certain of what you want after one year? One year may not be enough, and anyway only after you enter the university and try out the different courses would you be more certain.-The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn, and shine with increasing clearness on your path.
      Jim Rohn the path for everyone is different there are alot of careers noone even does yet but the few who dare to make thier own path will succeed if they follow their sense of success and not what media and family, and freinds tell them. i think alot of people have a different of idea of what success is. to my friend adam he is successful when he can wake up and paint and he may or may not sell his paintings like he wants to but his responsibility is to make sure he doesnt slip into a dream world where he thinks he doesnt have to pay bill if he has them. sorry this one is so long.

      2. Why can’t you multitask, and do volunteering or whatever you want to do alongside university? That’s what all my friends daughters are doing, and they are doing so well in university.-most people can do both but college and freinds time combined your days will be gone, so its not the same as getting lost in something you have passion for which few have the opportunity ot do.

      3. You’re going to enter society one year later, and you’ll be severely disadvantaged in that way.why would you be disadvantaged entering college a year later but with more direction than the possibly(majority if sheltered youth) college students do. you will be a year behind but they will switch majors, which can extend your stay in college or finish and not be happy in a career but lack passion. college is the best time to get to know you and those around you. learn how the world works establish you own morals as well as decide which ones you want to have. i joined the navy right out of high school( actually i joined christmas of my junior year and left decmeber that year i graduated. ) i am glad i did because im going to enter the college set with goals and life lessons that hold alot of people  back. i have done alot of stuff on the list i said earlier.

      The answers may be obvious to some of these questions, yet I am unable to phrase my answers as eloquently as you have in your article above. In earnest appeal to you, I express a sincere wish to receive your reply.i knw im not him but life is so worth figuring out. you culture an parents shouldnt decide you to be a doctor or lawyer or veterinarian, that should be up to you. so im all for the gap year. im going to college next year with life lesson i will remember forever and experience to be a positive influence on anyone i meet. i know i will mess up more but im all for those mistakes coming my way cause there is beauty in socalled coincidence, and it leads you to your destined fate. i do agree that you can do both college and other stuff but colge cost so much i dont want to wast any of my money on something else if im being charged as much as college students are. good luck in the future. if you want to reply  you can reach me at mlperry90@gmail.com. thank you! (:humbly,amelia

  • Pingback: Clement Burelle is a Travel Video Ninja!

  • Pingback: Clement Burelle is a Travel Video Ninja! : Jumping Anaconda

  • Pingback: Clement Burelle is a Travel Video Ninja! | iTravelMags.com

  • http://www.gapyearforums.com justindylan111

    This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.
    **********
    justindylan111

    Gap Year Jobs

  • Yan

    I took time off high school for one year after I had finished my junior level courses.
    I have gone to Nanjing, Shenzhen, Hongkong and Beijing, some first-tier cities in China, on my own. I arranged my schedule myself and solved all the problem I had met. All the people I have met and difficulties I have been through really let me know myself better.
    But I am not sure whether what I did as same as the “gap year” that mentioned above. ^ ^

  • Pingback: A-to-Z guide of the world’s “without Borders” Groups

  • Bruce Jones

    Great article! The British and Aussies have a culture of Gap Years but most Americans never heard of it and most parents freak when hearing about posponing a year of school.  A great way to live overseas and get paid to travel the world is to work as an English teacher.  A top TEFL training school to help people is International TEFL Academy for certification and job guidance to figure out the A-B-C’s of teaching abroad.  Their site is http://www.InternationalTEFLAcademy.com Cheers!

  • Nknknk

    “gap year students” dont exist, they are not students actually. who supposed to pay all that mumbo jumbo globe travelling, parents i guess. these generations are wicked, will do anything to evade real life.

    • Mming5000

      You missed an important point my friend – gap students should work and save for their trip, or join a nonprofit organization such as green peace to volunteer their services – the experience they gain in one short year will help jump start their careers with clear goals preventing them from wondering aimlessly in college with no direction on how to choose a purposeful and meaningful career.

  • Kaspar Wine n Burgers

    Worst mistake of my life… Of course, I didn’t have a mommy and daddy who could afford to send me on a world trip for a year – I went to work. And lord help me I liked it – although I didn’t actually realize it until I started college and was bored out of my skull by people who thought they knew everything but had never spent more than 1 summer in the real world. So after a year I got out of there – made money but no degree. Now, many years later I’m out of money and out of a degree! Learn from my mistakes kids!

    • SoonToGrad

       Please clarify on what exactly was your mistake: 1) went straight to work  after high school instead of going straight to college. or 2) quitting college after a year instead of sticking it through no matter how boring

      • Sudheer45367@gmail.com

        on that time i dont have any proper idea to join this course like ip,e or iti or poltechnique…………..etc so i had deside to ipe but the joining time is over………

  • http://www.replicon.com/time-clock Time Clock Software

    I believe, gap year gives greater experience to all the students on the real life, before which they were completely into a planned schedule of stuffs. Anyways using the gap year bravely is what gives better experiences and shapes you for the future.

  • http://www.freejobstoday.com/ Freejobs

    Hm i think college life is best. I love it and leave.

  • vero4travel.com

    I think that you are right. I agree in the 10 points you have shown us. But… isn’t true that in Europe it’s common to get a gap year, maybe in UK. But I’m from Spain and I can swear that this is completly crazy for us. And also I did my erasmus program in Ireland and I ‘ve met people from to many countries and they think the same as me.

Ghana has one of sub-Saharan Africa's best developed education systems and the University...
Extended travel is possible with a family in tow, and it can even be an enriching...
Traveling may not damage your career, but it can have an unwelcome effect on the way you...
You’re bound to run into a naked person at some point in your college career.
Are you a sucker? April Norhanian challenges your beliefs about the value of higher...
Don't wait until after you've signed up to WWOOF to ask these questions.
20 Matadorians give the reasons why they volunteer.
If you enter into the volunteer experience with unrealistic expectations, says seasoned...
I see a dry erase board inside that has “volunteers wanted” written on it.
Get tips from a former Peace Corps volunteer about making the most of the "toughest job...