What is a Gap Year?

A “gap year” is an opportunity for students who graduate from high school to take a break before starting college. The concept of a gap year is not new, but it has become more popular over the last decade with the increasing competitiveness of getting into colleges. A student may decide that they are not ready or mature enough to handle schoolwork, or perhaps their grades do not meet the college acceptance standards.

A gap year gives them an opportunity to build up their skills before attending school, or in some cases to directly enter the workforce after high school. It provides additional time for students to explore interests and activities, travel, work, volunteer with a charitable organization, train for a sport or skill, takes community college courses, or just relax before the pressures of school.

Why Take a Gap Year? The Positives for Taking a Gap Year

  1. Additional time to prepare intellectually and socially

Taking a gap year can provide students with an opportunity to mature emotionally and mentally so they are better prepared for higher education. This is particularly helpful for students who may be at a competitive disadvantage due to their socioeconomic status and/or lack of family support and guidance.

  1. A chance to explore interests and activities

During a gap year, time can be spent exploring new subjects and activities that could later lead to an interesting career path or help students choose what to study in college.

  1. A chance to experience the “real world”

Taking a year off allows students to explore interests and gain work experience, which can put them ahead of their peers who start college immediately after high school. This is particularly helpful for students going directly from high school into an engineering program, as these types of programs have a lot of on-the-job work that is not offered in college.

  1. A chance to save money

Taking a gap year allows students time to save up for future educational expenses such as textbooks and tuition, reduce student loans, or avoid accumulating credit card debt taking on an additional loan (for example through the federal PLUS Loan program) pay for school.

  1. Additional time to find the “right” school

By taking a gap year, students give themselves additional time to explore different schools and majors. This can be particularly helpful for students who are not sure what they want to study or are applying to colleges through early decision or early action programs. Sometimes students can tour college campuses, attend open houses, talk with representatives from the college, and take some classes to decide if it’s the right place for them.

  1. A chance to improve athletic skills

Taking a gap year to focus on training in an academic or professional sport can provide significant benefits by allowing students more time to develop their skills. This is particularly helpful for students who want to play sports in college but don’t have the time to participate in school sports programs.

  1. A chance to break the “freshman year slump”

As mentioned earlier, many students struggle with their first year of college, but a gap year can provide self-help and give a student a greater sense of independence. It may be that they have less help from parents or other family members. It may be that they are in an environment where many students don’t know how to manage their own time, and the student becomes overwhelmed by this. This is particularly common in large universities with tens of thousands of students.

The Negatives for Taking a Gap Year

  1. The loss of one full year of tuition payments

Taking a gap year can mean that students will not be able to take advantage of the traditional freshman year in college which leaves them with one less academic year to pay tuition and fees to their school.

  1. An interruption in the student’s education plan

Some schools may have rules about when a student is allowed to take a hiatus from their educational program or what the student must do to return, so taking a gap year could result in them not being able to receive their degree on time.

  1. Loss of financial aid eligibility

Taking a gap year can also mean that students will lose access to financial aid for one full school year, making it more difficult to pay for college expenses.

  1. The loss of a full year of scholarship eligibility

In many cases, there are no guarantees that taking a gap year will result in improved college performance or even getting into the school of choice. In some cases, students may choose to take a gap year and apply to a different school instead, meaning they lose out on their scholarships from the first school.

When should I take my Gap Year?

Gap year programs after high school


Though there are many reasons that students take gap years, the most common time to take a year off after high school is during their sophomore or junior year. This allows students to make sure they are in the right major before they start spending money on accredited schools. It also allows them to continue working in case management throughout this experience and save up for the next year.

The most important thing to remember about a gap year is that it should be a positive and enriching experience for the student. It should not be taken as a punishment or an embarrassment, but instead as a way to improve oneself and explore what one truly desires to do with their life. Taking advantage of the benefits listed above can help a student find a new path and become a much more successful college applicant in the future.

Types of Gap Year

  1. Working Gap Year

A lot of students choose to spend their gap year getting vocational experience in different fields with the hope that they can see what they want for a career. They may try out a job that is completely new, or they may work in a similar field as when they graduate from college.

  1. Traveling Gap Year

For some students, taking an extended break to travel the world is something they have always dreamed of doing, so taking a year off allows them to spend time on their own schedule. For others, it may be a way to gain perspective on different cultures and the impact they can make in other parts of the world.

  1. A Medical Gap Year

For students who want to attend medical school but are not sure they are quite ready for the intense studying, working as a nurse or pharmacist can provide valuable experience in the field. This is often seen as an alternative to military service because it allows students to be part of different life-or-death situations without leaving their country.

  1. A Volunteer Gap Year

For many students, a gap year is a time for them to give back and serve others in need. Volunteering at a local emergency shelter, non-profit organization or tutoring younger children can help students learn teamwork skills while making a difference in someone else’s life.

  1. Studying Gap Year

For students who do not want to work, travel or volunteer their gap year, they may choose instead to immerse themselves in a language or trade that could help them advance their career. Taking classes at community colleges and universities is one way to learn about the world around them and prepare for college, while still keeping costs low.

How to Fund a Gap Year

Post high school/pre-college gap year programs


Since taking a gap year is not required by many colleges, students may need to foot the entire bill themselves. Though it can be expensive, there are several ways that families can help finance their child’s experience.

  1. Save for college before high school

Many parents choose to start saving for their children’s college tuition early on so that there are no worries about funding once they are out of high school. This allows students to focus on their gap year without having to worry too much about the cost.

  1. Employer tuition reimbursement programs

Many employers will reimburse part or all of an employee’s tuition if they are working for the company full-time. The student should ask their future boss or manager if there are any opportunities for them to get their tuition covered.

  1. Peer-to-peer fundraising

The time around the winter holidays is a great way to ask friends and family for money to help cover the costs of one’s gap year. By creating a page on a peer-to-peer platform, students can share their stories with others and ask for help.

  1. Grants and scholarships

Many schools will offer a student a small grant from their endowment if they fill out an application about why they deserve funding. Students can also look up different scholarships online that pertain to their situation. They may need to search long and hard, but it is likely they find one or two that could help.

Most gap year programs are not yet widely known to the general public, but they do exist and can be quite successful for students who want to take a break before attending college. If there is something that interests them enough to study it long-term or spend time working in another field, taking a gap year can provide them with the opportunity to make a real difference in someone else’s life or prepare for college and beyond.