What Is A Gap Year?

by DAN MEYERlast updated July 15, 2022

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So you’ve probably heard or even know of others that have taken a gap year.

But what exactly is a gap year? And, most importantly, why would you ever consider taking one?

Broadly, a gap year is an intentional and meaningful period of your life devoted to exploration, self-development, and awareness.

Sometimes gap years take the form of a semester or year off after high school but before college or university.

Sometimes “gappers” take time off after college but before entering the workforce.

And some individuals even pause mid-career to embark on a period of self-discovery.

You might notice a theme here. One thing unites all gap years – the emphasis on taking time away from your “normal” life to explore and develop yourself.

Pretty cool concept, huh? How often do you get a chance to do something exclusively for yourself in life?

We’ll save you the suspense – not much! (and we’re middle-aged, so we know.)

So it might go without saying, no two gap years are alike. Gap years are as diverse as the people taking them.

And that’s the beauty in it. So let’s dive a little deeper.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself – how often in life will I get a chance to do something exclusively for myself?

What can you do during a gap year?

Ah – here’s the best part. You can do almost anything. Again, the emphasis here is on you outside your “normal.”

But if you, like most of us, need some inspiration, here are five ideas to get you started.

Travel – Many gappers take the time to travel, either domestically or abroad. You can go on an organized tour, travel independently, or something in between. As any experienced traveler will tell you, we often have to leave the comforts of our homes and culture to truly discover who we are, where we come from, and what we want out of life.

  1. Travel – Many gappers take the time to travel, either domestically or abroad. You can go on an organized tour, travel independently, or something in between. As any experienced traveler will tell you, we often have to leave the comforts of our homes and culture to truly discover who we are, where we come from, and what we want out of life.

2. Volunteer – Some gappers like to volunteer during their time away from school or work. Volunteering is a great way to help others or a cause that moves you. At the same time, you learn so many new things about yourself and the world around you as a volunteer. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” We’ve been there, and we couldn’t agree more.

3. Upskill – Other gappers use the time to develop a new skill. ¿Hablas español? 你会说汉语吗? Your gap year could be the time to learn!

4. Career exploration – Sometimes, this goes hand-in-hand with travel, volunteering, upskilling, or a mixture of all three. Why not find an internship in an area that interests you? We learn best through experience, and experiential learning is what gap years are all about!

5. Work – Despite what you may think, gap years don’t necessarily mean no income. You can find a paid position in an unfamiliar industry. You can work seasonal jobs or even travel abroad while working. So long as it’s short(er)-term and you’re learning, growing, and doing something new, join the club and call yourself a gapper!

When planning a gap year, you generally have two options. You can go it alone or get help from a professional organization. Both options have advantages and disadvantages and are worth discussing independently.