After 12+ years of school, many young adults are encountering a strong desire for new and meaningful experiences, big life changes, and a broader view of the world. Students all across the globe are interested in exploring other opportunities beyond the classroom, and are being pulled towards travel as a break from their daily responsibilities, as well as a way to better get to know themselves. The benefits of a gap year stand out when evaluating options to balance this desire to travel with the need to continue learning, growing and moving forward towards a degree and career.
What is a gap year?
A gap year is a set period of dedicated time “off” from traditional academics or work often spent teaching, volunteering, travelling, interning, or pursuing short-term jobs like being a barista or au pair. A gap year doesn’t have to actually be a year, and depending on life circumstances, students often choose to take only a summer or semester off.
Says Tom Grapes of Real Gap Experience, “A gap year is not a year long vacation from ‘normal’ life. It is an opportunity for a person to explore the world beyond their usual boundaries, challenging themselves to learn about and meet new people and cultures, experience new countries and lifestyles, and develop personal skills and characteristics.” According to a recent report by the Gap Year Association, 90% of students return to college within a year, and an overwhelming number of gap year alumni report being satisfied with their jobs. Additionally, 98% of these students responded affirmatively to the statement “my gap year helped me develop as a person.”
Why more students and young adults are taking gap years
The gap year gained its initial popularity in the U.K. and across Europe decades ago. In the U.S., students are realizing that, like in Europe, employers here often view those who undergo this meaningful time away from academia as more employable because of the skills that they acquire during their gap year. The Gap Year Association survey highlights that gap year benefits include an increase in maturity, self-confidence, and better communication skills.
At the graduate level, schools look for experience, especially in the applicant’s desired field of study, to fortify an application and indicate commitment to the field. Students applying to medical school or law school can benefit greatly, for example, by volunteering at medical centers abroad or taking courses abroad to improve their GPA, respectively.
Beyond the educational and professional benefits, gap year alumni also report personal growth through reflection. Paul took a Good Life Gap Term in Maine through Seguinland Institute and noted:
From the stomping grounds of the city that never sleeps, my life had become overwhelmed with stress, daunting professional expectations, and a spiraling loss of direction. My return to nature and experiences with personal reflection helped me find purpose for my days.
Financing a gap year on a student budget
Students often don’t have a large budget for a year filled with adventurous activities and travel. Fortunately, there are many ways to still achieve a rewarding gap year experience without racking up debt.
Many students take on short-term employment (working holidays) during their gap year. These jobs include everything from being a barista or bartender to being an au pair abroad. Work exchanges are another popular route young adults take to reduce the cost of a gap year. A work exchange is the process of providing services in exchange for room and board, often on a farm through programs like WWOOF. This can be an extraordinary opportunity for experiential learning and immersion, at a low cost.
Additionally, there are both merit and needs-based gap year scholarship opportunities available year round.
To start your budgeting process, read our 20 pro tips for doing your gap year on a budget!
How to make the most out of your gap year?
- Plan: Start your research as far in advance as possible to guarantee finding the best program for you and that you have adequate time to save money.
- Seek help from an expert: Look for people who will be able to give you specific advice. Research bloggers in your country of choice who will help you formulate a reasonable budget and schedule and have valuable insider advice. A great place to start is by reading through the thousands of reviews, testimonials, and blogs from gap year alumni here at Go Overseas.
- Be realistic: You won’t be able to see everything. Thoroughly experience a few places as opposed to an entire continent, and budget accordingly. Learn how to budget for a gap year here.
- Immerse Yourself: Get a real sense of the lifestyle in a new country. Avoid the temptation to only hang out with people from your home country.
- Say YES! To everything (within reason): Self-explanatory!
Gap year benefits include providing ‘gappers’ the chance to find direction and take control of their time. While you’re on your gap year, think about how everything you do can be perceived as appealing to an admissions officer or employer. Adventuring is conducive to gaining valuable skills!