40 Benefits of Taking a Gap Year (Or Semester!)
by Alison Sever
January 26, 2018
People have many different reasons for taking a gap year: the call to adventure, A response to the burnout of high school, the wish for more expansive LIFE experience, to develop new skills, or the simple, burning desire to do something new. While the reasons and needs for taking gap time vary greatly, WE BELIEVE the benefits are universal. Some reasons why we know that taking a gap year is a valuable choice in the long run:
1) You will get some fresh air. In all likelihood, when you graduate from high school, you will have spent 12 years straight of averaging 1000 hours in the classroom, and the prospect of 4 more years in college might seem like a lot. Get some head space! A gap year is a refreshing opportunity to get outside, go for hikes, reignite your sense of adventure, and connect more deeply with the natural world.
2) You will know more about what matters to you. Gap years offer space to reflect on what’s important: what you care about, who you are, and your relationship to those around you. Once you can identify these bigger things, you can begin to prioritize what matters most, and go after the things that will most deeply make you happy. Best of all, a gap year is just the beginning of a lifelong commitment to del personal development.
3) You will refresh your relationship to your education. Maybe you’re feeling a bit burnt out after high school, maybe especially after the college admissions process. Maybe you love learning, but just haven’t gotten fired up lately by school. On a gap year, when the world becomes your classroom, you can reconnect the dots of the relevancy of your own education, leading to future class time spent with much more purpose and excitement.
4) You will make deep, meaningful friendships. We’re talking about the friendships that matter, the ones with people you’ve gotten to know as your authentic self, people with whom you’ve shared wild experiences and grown from them together. Plus, people come from all over the country, even all over the world, to join gap programs. And if you have friends around the world, you’ve got some great destinations with couches to sleep on!
5) You could improve your candidacy in today’s jobs market and universities. Studies continue to show that a gap year is a desirable trait on a resume. Many employers and admissions officials agree that those who have critically examined their own education and pursued a wide range of development opportunities are often the most compelling candidates, both for colleges and for jobs.
6) You will be more confident, mature, independent, and able to be your authentic self. Gap year graduates who begin college or in the workplace and consistently recognized as the most self-assured and selfless members of a community.
7) You will build a healthy relationship with risk. A gap year is the perfect opportunity to challenge your comfort zone. Find your edge, that place where you are pushing yourself to stretch and grow but not beyond safety and well-being. Fortunately, in today’s gap year world, you can benefit from structures that comprise a wide safety net for you: gap year consultants, hundreds of vetted programs, diverse internships, informational websites and other platforms—so many resources to find a your perfect level of challenge.
8) You will learn to make self-knowledge your metric of success. Not how much money you’re making, not how fancy your car is, not what others see in your abilities. On a gap year you will have countless opportunities to look yourself in the eye in ways you have never done before. If getting closer to self-mastery becomes the way in which you measure your success in this world, you can be successful at whatever you do for decades to come.
9) You will get to see how other people live their lives. Gap years take us out—out of our heads, out of our hometowns, out on the land. No doubt you will encounter new people in these places, some who live their lives very differently from you. Witnessing these differences may cause you to think differently, and they may even challenge the very foundations of your worldview. What could you open up to on this planet if you widened your moral universe?
10) You will find yourself as a leader. Much more important than your career or lifestyle choices is how you are going to show up in those spaces. With many opportunities to lead your peers, and to reflect upon those experiences, you will get to know your unique leadership style. Moving forward, knowing how to embody your style will make you more effective in school, the workplace, in your communities, and beyond.
11) You will increase your likelihood of going to college. The Gap Year Association has demonstrated that 90% of gap year students will return to college within a year, and in fact those who take a gap year are more likely to go to college overall than their peers.
12) There’s a good chance you will find your people, too. What kind of people you want to surround yourself by? Maybe it’s people who grew up in the same place that you did, the people who choose the same college as you did, the people who are majoring in the same subject as you. But maybe there’s more that you’re looking for in your friendships: friends who see the real you, friends who know what you’re looking for and what you’re working on, friends who will hold you accountable to your goals, friends with whom you’ve worked and failed and gotten back up again and again, friends who are also your partners on the projects your wildest dreams…
13) You can figure out what you love to do… How can you know what to study if you haven’t try anything outside of your high school classroom yet? A gap year can give you the chance to try out a few different jobs, or build skills towards many possible career paths.
14) …and find fulfillment in doing it. It’s been proven that if you take a gap year you’ll be much more likely to feel satisfied with your job in the long run.
15) You will get in touch with your body. Whether we like it or not, we are in the bodies that we will have for the rest of our lives. With some distance from the academic stressors of higher education, you can go beyond mental discipline to the deep and silent intelligence of your own body. Who knows what you might find there, maybe a deeper sense of love for yourself, and a deeper appreciation for your health.
16) You will cultivate emotional intelligence. Being able to identify how others feel, and being vulnerable yourself with your own emotions, is an invaluable leadership and communication skill, one that brings people together. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
17) You will learn to be OK with your mistakes. Life is messy! No matter what you do in life, you will mess up. You will say something you don’t mean, heck you might even fall flat on your face in front of a room of people! As we open ourselves up to broader, off-the-beaten track experiences on a gap year, as we expose ourselves to new challenges and unfamiliar environments, we practice the art of failure. Best of all, we learn to incorporate failure as a learning tool rather than an indicator of inadequacy. Life, hacked!
18) You will stand on your own two feet. Gap time is a great time to learn crucial life skills like how to balance your budget, do your taxes, cook your own food, meditate, read all kinds of maps, speak a foreign language, and follow your curiosity.
19) You will become an improviser. In the challenges that a gap year inevitably presents, we are forced to think outside the box. Circumstances will ask us to be adaptable, flexible, open to spontaneity, and ready for change at any moment. Are you ready for the pitches life will throw at you, now and later on?
20) You will find your unique voice…. Everything we do in life is subjective—we are bound to color all of our experiences with all kinds of assumptions, desires, constraints, values, fears, and more. There’s no escaping that. But on a gap year, we can get to know the influences on our beliefs, where these ideas come from, and how others might come to see things differently. We can take the time to ask ourselves: is my voice truly mine? Is my point of view true, and is it the only truth? In doing so we world towards a world with more love and understanding.
21) …and your capacity to express it. A gap year will present you with new formats for answering life’s questions, new opportunities for creativity, and provide room for new ideas to spawn. It’s like the world giving you a big piece of paper, a palate with infinite colors, and yourself only as the judge of your work. Just think of all that you could come up with if given the chance.
22) You might really ask yourself for the first time ever: how do you want to make an impact? We mean beyond “community service” requirements or social obligations. Are you someone who deeply cares about your impact on this planet? There’s no better time than on a gap year to work on your relationship to the wider world: what do you want to bring it, what do you want to draw from it, what does it mean to you to contribute to something bigger?
23) You will communicate more effectively. Many gap programs or work opportunities provide the chance to give and receive feedback, practice active listening, navigate difficult conversations, manage conflict, and practice collaboration, outside of the school project or workplace paradigm.
24) You can increase your performance in college—academically and in extracurriculars. Studies show that incoming freshman who have taken gap time have higher GPAs. A recent study by Middlebury’s Dean of Admissions shows that those who take a gap year not only perform better academically, but hold disproportionately more leadership positions on campus.
25) You will have a better sense of your unique learning style. How do you learn best? You may not have had the chance yet to investigate the answer. A gap year might be your first chance to experiment with new approaches that work for you. What kind of a learner are you—Tactile? Social? Artistic? Visual? Audio? Some balanced and idiosyncratic combination? What about emotional and spiritual learning? How could knowing the answer to these questions change how your approach to learning later in your life?
26) Your imagination will grow wider. There are so many different ways of being, learning, living, and moving on this earth. When we step off the treadmill and get out of the norm, when we open up to the expansiveness of possible ways to be on this planet, we open up to innovation and all kinds of new ideas. Debbie Millman, artist, interviewer, and deliverer of one of the best commencement speeches we’ve ever heard says it best: “Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities…”
27) You will have given yourself a chance to unplug. Let’s face it: we spend a lot of time in front of our screens. When we’re plugged in, we are constantly engaged, always reacting to things that people post or send us, to movies or shows we watch, to buzzes and pings and notifications that take us away from the present moment. Many gap year programs limit or prohibit the use of cell phones, which —although challenging!—is actually a profound, unique opportunity to connect with those around you. We all know how good ideas come when we’re in the shower: what would happen if you let your mind remember how to wander?
28) You will get to know your inner chameleon. A drastic change, or several back-to-back changes to your routine and environments will undoubtedly ask you to be more adaptable. Learn to respond flexibly when your environment changes. In our gap time we can start to live with uncertainty, embrace the unfamiliar, be OK with the unknown, and be ready for whatever’s next.
29) You will develop slow, steady life skills: patience, hard work, and emotional endurance. Most likely, if you’re considering a gap year now, you grew up in a world of instant gratification. Some of the things that really matter in life: job satisfaction, trust and fulfillment in your relationships, and the deep emotions like love, joy, even grief come from small, steady, and incremental effort over a long time. On a gap year you might face challenges that ask you to be more patient, experience that deeply rewarding feeling of finally accomplishing something you’ve been working hard on for a long time, or craft the skills to get you there in the future.
30) You can learn train your mind. Like a paragraph break, intentional time away provides an opportunity to refocus our vision before continuing with our stories. Many gap programs have mindfulness components. It’s hard to imagine how learning to identify where your attention lies, where it should be, and then bring it there isn’t beneficial.
31) You could find lifelong mentors. You will meet all kinds of people on your gap year, many of whom are already living the lives your look up to and admire. You might connect with mentor figures to inspire you for years to come—to help you to advance your career, to re-contextualize your personal pursuits, or simply to hold you accountable for your growth as a human being.
32) You could save money. That’s right, save money. There are plenty of affordable gap year options, even ways to make money during gap time. Plus, if you get clear on what you’re going to do in school now, you can save tuition money in college by taking a semester part time or graduating sooner instead of bouncing around between majors.
33) You can build a whole new area of competency, like a foreign language, a hands-on skill like carpentry or French cooking, entrepreneurialism, photography, professional writing, and much, much, more.
34) Your gratitude muscle will strengthen. When you take intentional time away to look at the big picture, you will gain perspective on your own gifts, blessings, and privileges. Sometimes life is so good to us that it’s hard not to take it for granted. Most likely if you have even the chance to consider a gap year, your life is full of all kinds of blessings that we can come into deeper relationship with by appreciating. As many great teachers have said, “What you appreciate appreciates.” When we notice what we’re grateful for, our gifts suddenly multiply, and we can spread the fulfillment we feel far and wide.
35) You will develop your capacity to express yourself. No matter how you spend it, a gap year will present you with new formats for answering life’s questions, new opportunities for creativity, and provide room for new ideas to spawn. It’s like the world giving you a big piece of paper, a palate on infinite colors, and yourself only as the judge of your work. Just think of all that you could come up with if given the chance.
36) You will become a leader of your generation. Much higher than career or lifestyle choices are the questions about how you are going to show up in those spaces. With many opportunities to lead your peers, and to reflect upon those experiences, you will get to know your unique leadership style. Moving forward, knowing how to embody your style will make you more effective in school, the workplace, in your communities, and beyond.
37) You will begin to unlock your potential, in a way that classroom may not have afforded you so far. Gap years give us a bold chance to see the impacts of our actions—be it what we say, how we say it, what we do, or how we do it. Our lifestyle choices, all of the other decisions we make, affect others in ways large and small, whether we realize it or not. You might ask yourself, How is my life related to those of others? How does what I do impact the environment, and what the environment does impact me? From here we can learn to act mindfully of the impact of your actions—directly and indirectly, locally and globally.
38) You will gain a broader perspective of yourself in relationship to the wider world. Gap year students, as they meet people from all walks of life, are constantly building crucial social skills like empathy, compassion, sensitivity. As those places, people, and roles become a part of you, you can learn to see the world as a giant web, one that grows in size and strength with each connection you make. Just imagine all that you could learn from the sharing of ideas and resources that you wouldn’t by yourself.
39) You will more deeply appreciate diversity and the richness of ways of being on earth. There are so many ways to be alive on this planet! Going to the most prestigious college you get into, majoring in something “practical,” making as much money as possible, retiring and enjoying a quiet existence waiting out your final days is just one answer. With your gap time, you can interact with people who live in line with values different than your own or those of your culture, some of the ways others are going at this project we call Life.
40) At last you will give yourself the chance—away from cultural pressures—to ask yourself, what are your big questions in this life? What are you deeply curious about, concerned about, and longing for in your life? And best of all, where could the answers possibly take you?