How to decide if a gap year makes sense for you

Written by

Sam Mire


May 11, 2018


How to decide if a gap year makes sense

The decision to take a gap year in between high school graduation and starting college is an increasingly popular choice. Many top colleges explicitly encourage admitted students to consider taking  a gap year in order to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way. At Harvard College, for example, between 80 and 110 admitted students choose this option each year.

So, how do you know if a gap year makes sense for you? And how do you go about finding the right gap year program? In this article, we look at the pros and cons of taking a gap year, and the key considerations to take into account.

Most young people are unsure of whether or not a gap year is right for them. Uncertainty is no reason to prolong your education, so before you decide to take a gap year you must feel strongly about where and how you will spend your time, what the experience will provide for you, and what you may be missing out on by taking a year before beginning or resuming university.

When a gap year makes sense

There are numerous reasons why a gap year makes sense for many students. Keep in mind that while most gap years occur between one’s high school graduation and college admission, one can take a year off from their education at any point. The break does not necessarily have to be an entire year, either. There is no problem with taking a few gap weeks or months depending on your circumstances.

Most students head to university directly from high school, eager to continue their schooling in the typical four-year sequence. However certain students, particularly those that burn the candle at both ends when it comes to their academics, may find themselves quickly tuckered out by the grind and competitive nature of university. Instead of wallowing away dispassionately, enduring class after class while your mind and spirit are elsewhere, some form of a gap year may be an option to re-energize your zeal for learning. You may also want to consider taking our keys to career success training course to help you rediscover your true passion and potential career goals.

Or, in other cases, some students may have parents who are willing to pay for them to spend a year traveling,. If that ‘s you, it may not be a good idea to let the opportunity slip away. Regardless of your motivation for taking a gap year, the upside and downside of doing so must be fully understood before making your final decision.

Gap Year Pros and Cons 

As with everything else in life, there are pros and cons to consider as well when considering whether to take a gap year. First, let’s look at the pros. 

If you are struggling with college life, a gap year can be the perfect time to recharge your intellectual batteries. The daily grind of classes can become tedious, and the weekend party life can be exhausting both physically and mentally. A break from the routine of college can be just what one needs to get their mind right, a boost that allows them to finish college strong.

Depending on whether you take a gap year before college or sometime during your college years, you may attain different experiences and life lessons from your time away from school. Taking a year off to travel and cultivate new experiences can help you become a more well-rounded student with a balanced worldview. The inherent value of travel and experiencing different cultures will allow you to better handle the inevitable adversity that comes with college life.

If you spend a portion of or the entire gap year working in a field which you think you may pursue in college, this can be valuable in helping you to narrow down your major. Also, a gap year mid-college to pursue an internship or to experiment in the professional world can afford you more opportunities upon graduation. Such an experience may also lead you to determine that a certain line of work is not for you or, conversely, that you have made the right major and career choice.

Others may not be burnt out at all, but feel that a gap year would help to broaden their experiences and help them mature before taking on college. For most, heading to university can be a daunting experience, and a gap year may allow for the personal discovery that lends itself to being a successful college student. Many students in this category tend to use the gap year for more leisurely activities, but mixing in some form of volunteering, internship, or apprenticeship can be of great value once you return to or begin university.

So what are some of the potential risks or cons of taking a gap year?

The truth is, a single gap year can quite easily turn into multiple gap years, or even a gap life. Some people travel and/or begin to make money, only to decide that pursuing higher education is a waste of their time. For most, this would be a mistake. While the rare individual does not necessarily need to go to college to succeed, university is an investment in oneself, and attaining the skill set that can only be learned in college will pay dividends in the future. No matter how tedious and pointless daily classes may seem, there is a reason college graduates tend to make more money than non-graduates. Letting your gap year deter you from pursuing college for longer than you intended is a very real risk.

In addition, not properly planning your gap year can result in a year of your life wasted. Not traveling, working toward a goal, or bettering yourself can mean an entire school year down the drain, and you may find yourself lagging behind your high school classmates for no apparent reason. Before you decide to take a gap year, you must have a clear purpose for doing so.

Which leads us to… Tips for Planning a Gap Year

When you do decide to take a gap year, make sure to do it right.

There’s a good chance that your gap year will involve some form of travel even if you decide to not go abroad. Before you begin to pack your bags, however, you must take some essential steps that will ensure you not only have a memorable year, but that you arrive home in one piece.

You will have to consider which region of the world, and which specific country or countries you will want to visit. When deciding this, do ample research on the local culture, customs, geography, and language to figure out if it is somewhere you will be able to tolerate, and hopefully enjoy.

It is often wise to pick a region based upon how comfortable you are traveling. If you are a relative novice, sticking to a nation in which the culture is not very dissimilar from yours is a wise idea. If you are an experienced world traveler, you may find more joy in a more exotic, somewhat riskier location. Do not take your choice of destination lightly, however. Utilize message boards, professional agencies, friends, and family in making this decision.

Once you decide upon a destination, you will need to take care of the travel requisites. This includes attaining a visa, getting proper vaccinations, budgeting, and potentially purchasing traveler’s insurance. And of course, the packing. Once you take care of all the pre-travel tasks, you are ready to have the year of your life.

To Gap or Not to Gap, That is the Question

Now that you have an idea of what must be considered before taking a gap year, you should have a better understanding of whether a gap year is right for you. You don’t have to decide yet, particularly if you have yet to begin college.

Always keep a gap year as a possibility if it is feasible, but remember: don’t let a gap year turn into gap years. There are plenty of resources to help you find the right gap year programs for you. 

Recommended Gap Year Programs

If you or someone close to you is considering taking a gap year, here are a few gap year programs and resources that you might want to look at to help you decide if a gap year makes sense. 



Written by:  Sam Mire

Sam Mire is a freelance writer with a niche in local and national politics as well as current events. He has had ghost-written political pieces published in USA Today, Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Democrat, Sunshine State News, and other prominent publications. A graduate of University of South Florida, he has a Bachelor’s in journalism.

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