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What is a Gap Year and Why is There an Increase of College Students Taking One?

by | Jun 21, 2021 | Student Life

During the past year, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of high school graduates opting to defer their enrollment in college to be gap-year students. Not only are high school students doing this, but so are college students. They are graduating college and opting to pause on pursuing higher education for a year. 

What is a Gap Year?

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gap year is a year-long break before or after attending college or university, where students typically take the time to complete developmental activities. Most students take 7 to 12 months away from school to complete those activities. 

This time is taken to have time to travel, complete an internship, or volunteer. Depending on the route, there are different programs to join to keep a student in line with their gap year goals. 

Why Students Take a Gap Year:

  • Avoid burnout
  • Navigate their career goals
  • Professional experience
  • Travel
  • Volunteer
  • Learn a foreign language (and could practice it in that country)
  • Gain life experience

Benefits of a Gap Year

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While some have academic hesitancies about students who do gap year experiences. But, research has shown that those who take gap years actually perform better academically. 

The other benefits of a gap year include: 

  • Increased job satisfaction
  • More financially aware
  • Push their comfort zone
  • More employable
  • Gain soft skills
  • Experience cultural immersion
  • Learn outside of classroom skills with experiential learning
  • Increase creativity
  • Improved leadership skills
  • Personal growth

Gap Year Programs

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Gap year programs assist students with planning their year in exchange for a program fee. These programs can get costly, but there are financial aid packages available. Some programs offer college credit as well. In general, the Gap Year Association is a great general resource to begin gap year options. To begin looking at gap year ideas, it is important to know what 


  • Sea|mester is a program that organizes global travel via ship.
  • Kaya Programs has short-term trips for students looking to travel, but for gap semesters.
  • Not all travel has to be international. There are programs such as Semester in the Rockies, that focus on the United States travel out west with outdoor activities. 

Internships & Fellowship Work Experience


Teaching during a gap year is a great way to test out being an educator before committing to it as a career. 

  • Edu-Pal China is a year-long full-time position where a student lives with a family, teaches the children English, and has a full Chinese cultural immersion with the option to learn Mandarin as a new language.
  • Maximo Nivel offers opportunities to teach, learn, volunteer, in Cuba, Peru, Guatemala, and Costa Rica

Community Service

There are volunteer programs that match students with organizations that need help.

  • International Volunteer HQ has been placing students globally for over 12 years. They prioritize keeping the program fees low. 
  • Gapforce has a focus on community volunteering that gives the volunteer a sense of achievement, satisfaction, and introspection.
  • Americorps is a United States-based volunteer program that follows a year-long station in a community in need. 

Popular volunteer locations: Latin America such as Costa Rica, Africa in South Africa and Ghana, Asia in Nepal, and the Pacific in New Zealand. 

A Gap Year in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Headshot of a student taking a gap year, Nile Lansana
A student who chose a gap year during the pandemic, Nile Lansana

The coronavirus pandemic created entirely new reasons to take gap years. For Nile Lansana, his choice to take a gap year was made when everyone was applying to graduate schools in Fall 2020 and he chose not to.

“I thought we would still have another year of not being in person. I felt it would be partially a waste to do [graduate school] over Zoom,” said Lansana.

In general, he wants to spend this time to figure out who he is and how he moves when he is not a student. He said, “In hindsight, I still feel like it was a good decision”

Other students chose a gap year during the pandemic because of financial restraints, to avoid remote learning, and to avoid additional stress during an already stressful event. 

“Graduating college is always a big achievement but it also can lead people in limbo. Especially now, we graduated in the craziest time. I think it is okay to take your time. It’s okay to not pressure yourself to immediately have this job, this internship. That stuff is important but it’s important to make sure you are okay mentally, physically, and emotionally…” said Lansana.

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Internships and early-career jobs are unlike any others. They are often accepted months, if not years, in advance of the start date leaving plenty of time for candidates to change their minds and decide to work elsewhere, costing your team time and money.

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