Benefits of Taking a Gap Year Before College

May 3, 2018
Year On TeamGap Years

Personal enlightenment, skills building, lifelong friendships, and an opportunity to explore world cultures through incredible travel. With benefits like these, it’s no wonder the gap year movement is making waves and growing increasingly popular with students all around the world. More high school graduates are choosing to take a gap year before starting school.

Gap years aren’t a recent phenomena. During the 1700s in England, young British elites went on ‘Grand Tours’ around Europe to broaden their horizons and gain cultural exposure. In modern times, gap years began as “hippy trails,” a post cold war Britain movement of young people overlanding from Europe to Asia in search of love, freedom, and betterment.

While the trend is still growing with American youth, gap years have been particularly popular with European and Australian students. Europeans and Australians tend to travel more than Americans. Their colleges also don’t offer as many extracurricular activities as American institutions, leaving a gap for the personal growth and development activities that gap years include. American high school students also have more college counseling woven into their academic life compared to European and Australian high schoolers. This gives Australian and European teens more freedom and control over crafting their own post-high school plans.

There is also much stigma in American society surrounding the concept of gap years. Many picture gap years as a year off of relaxation and aimless wanderlust. However, gap years are actually anything but a vacation. They are a period of proactive travel designed to help students explore academic and career pursuits, gain new experiences, interact with other cultures, increase personal growth, and gain deeper insight into achieving their goals. Gap year experiences such as traveling, working, or volunteering abroad require more independence, self-sufficiency, and motivation than the average classroom setting. Students complete gap years with stronger personal and professional skills and more confident about the direction of their future.  

Whether you decide to gap with a program or plan your own self-structured gap year, the personal, social, and academic benefits of gap years are indisputable. Let’s look a bit deeper into the powerful benefits that gap years provide.

How will a gap year really improve my life?

Personal Gap Year Benefits

  • Increased self-awareness. Gap year activities typically involve an element of travel and opportunities for cultural exchange. These encounters will force you to have heightened awareness about your own behavior and its impact. This self-awareness is a useful life skill for monitoring and evaluating your interactions with others, making for an all-around healthier person.  
  • Boost to your self-confidence, maturity, and independence. American Gap Association statistics found that 97% of gap year alumni respondents felt their gap year improved their maturity. Gap years activities such as teaching or volunteering abroad are known for pushing students outside of their comfort zone. Support staff will always be around for guidance. However, everyday decisions such as meeting an internship project deadline will be left up to you. While it may seem intimidating, persevering through gap year adjustments and challenges is an extremely empowering achievement that builds maturity and independence.
  • Greater ownership of education. Your gap year will develop your ability to take charge of and own an educational experience. You will have control over setting and reaching your gap year goals. After years of guided academic structure, you will learn how to responsibly navigate managing your academic future.
  • Increased happiness. Exploring the archipelago of Indonesia... mastering Spanish as you teach art in Mexico... late night card games with your Brazilian host family. Between the unique intercultural experiences, time for introspection, and lifelong memories, gappers return home overall happier people. This is also a great energy and mental space to start college with.

Social Gap Year Benefits

  • Life experience. Your gap year will be filled with meeting new people, becoming immersed in different cultures, and other experiences you would never have in your hometown. While it may feel jagged, these life situations will help you develop as a person, expanding your knowledge, and teach you more about yourself.
  • Language skills. While taking a gap year overseas, you can learn a second language—this will help you become more socially integrated into the country you are gapping in and learn to interact with people from different backgrounds. These social skills will make you a more effective communicator during college or professional activities such as group projects.
  • Global awareness. Gap year travel allows you to observe new ways of life and view the world from a different perspective. You will have an insider’s look at the strides and social challenges a nation may be facing. For example, volunteering at a refugee camp will give you a firsthand look at one of the many social crises facing the world and shape you into a more globally aware young person. Gap year travel inspires interests in current events and global affairs—excellent skills to have no matter what field you decide to study. Your awareness and curiosity of the world will extend past your borders.
  • Lasting friendships. Friendships are one of the best rewards of gap years. Your days may be spent socializing with local students, spending time with a host family, or brainstorming with fellow interns on a task. The bonds that are formed under the unique environment stretch far beyond the end of the gap year.
  • Soft skills. Working on projects with people from other cultures will help you learn about different communication styles. Participating in local events in the places that you travel will open you up to the social, developmental, or economic challenges in other countries. Gap year activities develop the soft skills necessary for effective social interaction in college and beyond. Ninety-three percent of gap year alumni surveyed told the American Gap Association their gap year helped them develop communication skills.

Academic Gap Year Benefits

  • Likelihood of graduating on time. Statistics are in favor of gap year alumni: students who have done gap years graduate in four years or less compared to the national average of six years. Gappers also have lower college transfer rates compared to college students who take a leave of absence. The clarity and skills development of a gap year mold students who are sure about their studies and better prepared to succeed in college.
  • Better idea of career interests and major. A Gap Year Advantage study revealed 60% of students felt their gap year influenced their major. This can be explained by the stimulating and self-reflective nature of gap years which cultivates a better understanding of who you are and what kind of activities energize you. Gap years help you uncover your hidden talents and passions to ultimately find your sense of purpose.
  • Opportunity to refocus after high school. Burnout from finals, SATs, and college applications are common complaints of recent high school graduates. Through exhilarating overseas excursions, purposeful projects, and self-development exercises, your gap year triggers your creativity and motivates you about your future. By the end of your gap, you will feel a clearer sense of how you want to shape your life after high school.
  • Improve career opportunities. Many employers say the international experience that gappers bring makes them more mature, have better people skills, and are stronger at problem-solving. With a program like Year On, you will even finish up your gap year with a portfolio of work. Seventy-five percent of respondents told the American Gap Association their gap year helped or will help them get a job. International travel also shows potential supervisors you are not intimidated by the unfamiliar or of taking on new challenges.

Unconventional Gap Year Benefits

  • Time for reflection. The incredible experiences of gap years will expose you to an array of new experiences, allowing you to decide which are the most appealing. Gap years give you the tools and time to look deeper into your soul and uncover your ambitions.
  • Flexibility and control on how you manage your day-to-day. With self-structured gap years, you will have complete control over exactly how you spend your days. And even with structured gap year programs, you will have plenty of time for after-hours excursions of your choice. This type of control is invigorating and empowering and allows you to explore yourself and your new surroundings in a less restricted environment.
What Year On fellows are saying about their gap year successes.

“I think I found my compass. I think I know where to go.”

Antonia spent her gap year at a Tibetan refugee camp in northern India. After corporate work, she found her gap year taught her how to set and be accountable for her goals, learn to stay present, and become a better problem solver.

“I found direction. I found my beginning. This was my discovery...I found something I really wanted to do.”

After high school graduation, Caleb decided he didn’t want to go the traditional college route. He spent his gap year in San Francisco brainstorming his personal interests and discovered his passion for audio design. This helped him decide on a professional career path and also gave him the self-confidence to pursue the field.

These gap year benefits are just a few clicks away.

Are you sold on the awesome benefits a gap year can offer your future? Ready to take a step toward becoming a global citizen and improved personal development? Get in touch with our gap year specialists to start your Year On gap year application process today!

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