Thoughts on A Gap Year


It's entirely possible that some of you rising high school seniors may end up considering the so-called “gap year" option at some point during your college process, which is on the near horizon. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, rest assured that it has nothing to do with trendy, upscale clothing. (A little humor there. Very little.)

Taking a gap year simply means that some high school seniors intend to wait a full year after high school graduation before attending college. Some (perhaps the majority) go through the traditional college process during senior year and acquire their acceptances. Then, after choosing their best-fit school, exercise their option to defer attending until fall term the following year.

Other seniors may choose to delay their entire college process until after their gap year, feeling that using the credibility of their year's “real-world" experience will enhance their college admissions chances. Either approach is valid.

According to aptly named, a gap year is “a period of time when students take a break from formal education to travel, volunteer, study, intern or work." The period can also be "referred to as a deferred year, year out, year off, time out, time off. A gap year experience can last for several weeks, a semester or up to a year or more. Typically a gap year is taken between high school graduation and starting college, during college or between college and starting graduate school or a career."

You can see, then, that a gap year can also be taken even during a normal undergraduate college experience. This may be a good option for students experiencing unusual circumstances, such as illness or unfortunate family situations. The term “gap" is flexible and, according to PlanetGapYear, it can be a brief period or an extended one, depending on the specific needs of the student.

What's the Motivation?

In my work as an independent college admissions counselor, I encounter a year-gapper now and then. I enjoy working with these students because they all seemed to have had a mature and considered outlook on their higher education needs. There seem to be two main motivations for their desire to take a gap year:

1. They need to take a break from that long, unbroken chain of years from grades K-12

2. They haven't yet figured out what they want to do with their lives, so a year of exploring their “hearts" might just bring things into focus.

There are, no doubt, other reasons that high school seniors stop out for a year before college, but these two reasons seem to be the most prevalent, at least in my experience.

The motivation for those two reasons could be boiled down into two words: Finding oneself. The various methods of finding oneself are as numerous as the number of students taking a gap year.

Where Should You Go?

The overwhelming majority of students with whom I've talked have told me that the least desirable place to spend a gap year is at home with mom and dad (and possibly sisters and brothers or other extended family members). They say that living at home delays and even frustrates the “searching and finding" process. I have to say that I agree with that point of view.

The answer to “where?" might be found within trending social media. I say this because just the other day, I received this information (in all caps):


This is an interesting analysis of social media (Instagram) data that shows where many students are heading for their respective gap years. Here are some excerpts from the analysis, which includes a ranking chart. Perhaps this will help to inspire your thoughts if you're one of the many possible gap year candidates out there.

Alpha Travel Insurance has analysed 10,000 Instagram hashtags to create an interactive map that highlights the most popular gap year destinations from around the globe.

New York is the number one gap year destination on Instagram with 818 out of 10,000 photos having the hashtag #gapyear. In second place is Sydney, Australia and third place Bali, Indonesia

Europe is the most popular gap year continent, with nine of the top 25 destinations featured there. Locations include Rome, Italy, Paris, France, London, United Kingdom and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Four destinations feature in the USA, four in Asia and three Down Under

London ranks seventh for the world's most popular gap year destination. ...

Posting travel photos on one of the world's most popular online platforms, Instagram has never been more popular. With an average of 80 million photos uploaded every single day and just under a mind-blowing 400 million posts on the site having the hashtag #travel, it's safe to say everybody wants to show off places they have just visited in the world, especially those who are enjoying a gap year. ...

… If you are struggling to choose a country to spend your gap year in or want to go to more than one place, Europe may be the place to head as it's the continent with the highest number of the hashtag #gapyear on Instagram. Four out of the top 10 gap year destinations are European, including Rome, Paris, London and Venice. With most of these countries being no more than a two to three hour flight away from each other, this might be the place for you on your gap year.

“Gap year" can also be “gap years" (plural) -- two (or more?) years off before starting college. Entering college at 19 or even 20 years of age is irrelevant. Nobody in your dorm has to know how old you are. If they do, nobody cares. Mature 17-year-olds interact with 20-year-olds on college campuses routinely. By sophomore year, when elective courses are prevalent, almost every college class will have three “grades" worth of students. Individual eclecticism is part of what makes college such fun!

Thus, there is no stigma to arriving on a college campus later than many of your high school classmates. You still graduate with your high school class and attend their graduation parties. Your high school yearbook still lists your graduation year. If it doesn't list an intended college, it can list an “experiential year" that you'll brag about later.

Gap Years Provide Introspection Period

The heart of the gap year, I believe, provides a period of introspection, reflection, assessment and pondering for high school graduates. In today's lightning-fast society, there's precious little time to take in the “Bigger Picture" of one's life. So, for those of you students reading this, I hope you might give the gap year concept a thought or two.

For you parents who may be in a quandary about your high schooler and his/her future plans, the gap year may hold some promise for you, too. It offers a chance for your child to live potentially life-changing experiences.

As a final thought about considering a gap year, check out 10 Benefits of a Gap Year. Here are two of the ten compelling reasons:

3. Develop new life skills. Hone your global competency, learn about entrepreneurialism and improve your ability to communicate and adapt quickly in the face of challenges.

6. Improve yourself. You'll be working alongside local residents on projects that matter to them, but you'll also be learning and developing your own skills in the process. Sure, you'll be making an impact, but you're going to gain just as much, or more, from the experience as the local community.

If you need further convincing, read the remaining seven benefits. Plus, if you're looking for a hint about where to gain these benefits, check those Instagram rankings above.

I'll leave you with this: I've always thought of the term “GAP" as an acronym, standing for Gain Additional Perspectives. There's nothing bad about that!