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Guide to Taking a Gap Year

Whether you’re considering gap time directly after high school, during college, or a mid career break, taking a year off is a great opportunity to learn through new experiences, grow beyond your comfort zone, and get out of your ordinary routine.

If your hunger to travel the world, meet new people, and experience new adventures can no longer be ignored, a gap year program is a great opportunity to volunteer abroad, teach abroad, intern abroad, or attend a language school. Whether you’re intrigued by a whirlwind tour across country borders on multiple continents, or an immersive long-term stay in a near or distant city, the best way to spend your gap year is completely up to you!

Gap years are becoming increasingly common for students and young professionals. In fact, many find that when applying for jobs down the line, their gap year experience helped their resume stand out among a sea of qualified candidates.

Because of the popularity of gap years (and the slight ambiguity of the term) prospective gap year travelers have tons of questions like:

Here at Go Overseas we have detailed information to help you have a year of meaningful growth through exploring your interests, passions, and curiosities, as well as supporting your pursuit for experiential learning, either locally or abroad. Review gap year program listings and verified alumni reviews, read through an extensive library of expert gap year advice, ideas, and content to plan and decide how to get the most out of your gap year.

What it Means to Take a Gap Year

You may have wondered “What is a gap year?”. Ringing true to its name, a gap year is a period of time when a student, recent graduate, or professional takes time off (a “gap”) from their studies or traditional work to focus on personal growth, learning through new experiences, and travel, both locally or internationally. Also referred to as a sabbatical (or sabbatical year), gap year means different things to different people, but is inclusive of virtually anyone looking for a break or change in their life.

Most common among 18-22 year olds seeking a break from academia before or during college, “gap years” are no longer exclusive to a full year abroad. This intentional break can cover a shorter period of time too -- like summers, a semester, or holiday breaks.

Gap years typically are focused on educational, personal, or professional growth. While high school gap years and college gap years are the most common, they can be taken during many life stages.

Travelers often spend their gap year backpacking, visiting multiple countries, seeing more of their home country, volunteering, learning a new language, or working abroad. Since long-term travel can be expensive, budget travel is common during a gap year, as it helps travelers extend their adventures and immerse themselves in local cultures.

For many travelers, the gap year will be the first time they travel solo (or even travel at all!), so it can be helpful to get some expert guidance along the way. Third-party providers help travelers make the most of their intentional time off by providing a more structured gap year experience. These programs are fee-based and often selected by gappers for:

  • Adventurous itineraries
  • Reliable support staff
  • Reputable reviews
  • Inclusive packaging
  • Cultural immersion
  • Potential college credits
  • Virtual gap year options
  • Training and qualification programs

Since most young travelers are new to solo travel, gap year programs help ease fears and discomforts about traversing a foreign place.

Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

According to the Gap Year Association Data and Benefits Guide informed through their Alumni Survey, gappers are more likely to attend and graduate from college (over 90% return to college after finishing their gap year), exhibit improved GPAs, and “overwhelmingly report higher levels of job satisfaction.” Of course the pros and cons of taking a gap year depend on your individual circumstances, but taking a gap year has shown to set candidates apart from similarly qualified peers in college and job applications.

Not only is a gap year beneficial for those just finishing high school and college students looking to step away from their studies temporarily, it is also worthwhile for people who just need a break from their daily routine.

Truthfully, the benefits of taking a gap year are endless. A few include:

  • Gappers get to take control of their year without consideration of pre-arranged daily responsibilities (like homework and studying) while learning and growing through experiences beyond their comfort zone.
  • Most people who take a gap year report better self-awareness, increased confidence, elevated interest in other people and cultures, and the development of new life skills.
  • Taking a gap year provides the opportunity to focus on your curiosities, passions, relationships, wellness, and personal growth.

Taking a gap year is often a monumental experience, both through its enjoyable experiences and its many challenges. A gap year is an opportunity to truly forge your own path.

Read on to learn why students should take a gap year.

When Should You Take a Gap Year?

The best time to take a gap year is… anytime, really. As humans, we continuously reach milestones in our lives where a change or a break is necessary. It is our way of growing and learning as we mature.

You can take a gap year as a high school graduate to get a taste of life beyond living at home (and maybe even discover some new passions that’ll give you more direction in college). You can also take a gap year during college, where you can supplement your textbook education with first-hand experiences.

Academic transitions offer natural opportunities to take a gap year, but you may also enjoy an intentional year off after graduation, during your professional career, and even after retirement! If you’re asking yourself “am I too old to take a gap year,” the answer is: of course not! Gap years can be incredibly enriching experiences no matter what life stage you are in. Read more about the best time to take a gap year based on one fellow gapper’s experience.

Where is the Best Place to Take a Gap Year?

Popular regions include Europe, Asia, South America and Australasia thanks to the array of nearby cities and countries one can visit on a budget. Many people also opt for gap years in the United States, and there are even virtual gap year programs available. A gap year doesn't need to be taken abroad, and many gappers travel within their home countries instead.

Recently we researched top gap year countries based on reviews, popularity, and search trends, and found that the following 10 locations are top picks:

To discover the perfect gap year destination for you, browse gap year programs by country from our dropdown menu above.

How Much Does a Gap Year Cost?

The cost of gap years can vary greatly depending on the program inclusions, length of time abroad, the destination, and the way you budget. You can choose anything from work exchange programs where you can earn money on your gap year to structured gap year programs that cost as much as a full year of college tuition, and everything in-between.

When researching the cost of an international gap year, consider a few things:

  • What countries do I want to visit?
  • What is the general cost of living in those countries?
  • What is the current exchange rate in those countries?
  • How much does it cost to travel between those countries?
  • How long do I want to stay in each country? (How long am I allowed to stay?)
  • What type of activities do I want to experience in each country?
  • What type of accommodations do I want to stay in (hotel/hostel/homestay)?
  • Do I need to hire a program provider to help facilitate my gap year?
  • How much does a visa cost to visit each country?
  • Can I work on my gap year?

Answering these questions will help you choose the best route for your gap year and create a realistic gap year budget.

Are There Gap Year Scholarships or Grants?

Scholarships and grants for gap years may not be as common as getting financial aid to study abroad, but there are still plenty of options to help you fund a gap year. The USA Gap Year Fairs Student Ambassador Scholarship is a great example of a scholarship to help fund a program for “students who have demonstrated outstanding motivation and determination to pursue gap year experiences.”

Many program providers host their own gap year program scholarships. Go Overseas features current gap year scholarships for you to apply for year-round. These include both merit and needs based options.

How Go Overseas Works

Go Overseas is your trusted source for travel abroad programs: here you can browse and discover thousands of vetted providers. Just like a trusted travel buddy, we want to help you find the right information and feel excited and confident about your first or next culturally immersive trip overseas. We know sometimes having an abundance of options can be overwhelming, so we have a few tips on how to use Go Overseas to find the perfect transformative travel program for you.

  1. Browse 16,000+ programs: Narrow your search results by using filters, such as program type, location, and length.

  2. Read 46,000+ Reviews: Real people have gone on these programs, and have experiences to share. Read alumni reviews on any program that interests you to get an idea of what it's really like to be on the ground, overseas.

  3. Read 5,700+ Interviews: For any program that really sparks your interest, read personal stories and in-depth accounts from travelers like you. If you'd like to reach out and hear more from the traveler who left an interview, let us know and we'll help connect you.

  4. Browse community photos: Pictures of food, accommodations, adventures, and people (oh, the friends you'll make!) in program community galleries will help you visualize yourself abroad.

  5. Wish List 💙: Not ready to commit to a program? Click the Wish List heart icon to bookmark programs and save them for later. Then, compare programs side by side.

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Frequently Asked Gap Year Questions

  • Is it a good idea to take a gap year?

    There’s no denying that spending time abroad will enhance your resume, teach valuable life skills and provide the experience of a lifetime. Studies show gap year participation leads to increased GPAs, graduation rate, and job satisfaction.

    That said, a gap year may not be right for everyone and there are many considerations as to how best to structure your intentional year (or however long works for you) off. It's important to consider your budget, goals, and time commitments, in order to determine if taking a gap year is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

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  • What does it mean to take a gap year?

    A gap year is a semester, year, or other set period of dedicated time "off" from traditional academics or work, and instead spent ‘on’ experiential learning, growth, travel, and adventure. While there is no age limit for taking a gap year, it is common during academic transitions and in between other life stages like career changes.

    No matter the age, a gapper is typically investing their time in their personal development instead of their traditional academia or job. Commonly, gappers will seek an enriching experience abroad, such as interning, teaching, volunteering, or learning a foreign language. Others may simply travel and see the world, or see more of their home country.

    A gap year is considered beneficial for a number of reasons — adding to your résumé, recharging your batteries to avoid academic burnout, growing both personally and professionally, and gaining life experience are a few of the major benefits.

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  • Will taking a gap year affect college admission?

    If you plan your gap year wisely, invest time in yourself, and learn new skills, taking a gap year might actually help your chances of getting into the college of your choice! Gap years can show your commitment to becoming a global citizen and lifelong learner, as well as demonstrate your interests for service or the field you're going into, depending on what you choose to do during your gap year. After all, it may just give you the perfect story to tell in an application and can help you frame why you are pursuing the degree you choose!

    It's also possible to defer your admission, if you apply to college before your gap year.

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  • Why should I take a gap year?

    A gap year is a great way to gain valuable life skills, travel and try new things, and prepare you for the next stage of life, whether it's beginning college or joining the workforce. Beyond academic and employment benefits, taking dedicated time off to focus on meaningful growth can provide insight into yourself, broaden your perspective, and challenge you to grow.

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  • Should I go through a gap year program?

    Gap year programs help structure gap years to make the planning and budgeting process easier, as well as offer a broad spectrum of experiences from adventure travel to volunteering, to language immersion.

    In comparison to doing it solo, going through a gap year program can be a safer and less intimidating way to travel, as you'll have support every step of the way, more structure in your itinerary and day-to-day activities, and more opportunities to meet new people who are also taking a gap year!

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  • What should I do during a gap year?

    Gap years allow you to take control of your time through experiences outside your normal academics or work. Whether you decide to spend this time volunteering in South Africa, doing a work exchange in Argentina, or learning Japanese in Japan, your gap year is completely up to you!

    Here a few ideas to get started:

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  • Can I earn college credit during a gap year?

    Yes! Some programs are designed specifically to combine the academic benefits of study abroad with the adventurous experiences you gain from common gap year programs.

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