What’s a Gap Year? Here’s All You Need to Know

The number of young people taking gap years after secondary education is on the rise. But for this year, some students take a gap year for reasons that are quite different from the conventional. It seems that the global pandemic has a lot to do with it, as it continues to impact educational institutions and their teaching systems and, in turn, affecting student decisions.

The Coronavirus’ Effect on Gap Years 

In the Arts and Science group survey conducted in April 2020, 17% of the nearly 1200 college-bound high school graduates are rethinking attending college because of the pandemic. Some students would prefer attending in-person classes, so others would want to defer their college enrollment until Spring. It seems that confusion, anxiety, and stress have dawned on students, especially incoming college students. No one knows how these new normal will affect their future. Some families have adapted to online education methods, but others strongly believe that nothing could replace the traditional brick and mortar form of learning. 

The Hechinger Report published an article regarding students being confused about deciding about their current situation’s educational choices. While some families and students are hesitant and concerned about online classes’ efficacy and productivity, some are also having second thoughts about taking a gap year. Gap years traditionally involve a lot of traveling, internships, and working. But the situation right now has triggered these activities. International borders are continued to restrict foreign visitors, and even jobs and opportunities are hard to come by at these times. Hence, they are in the middle of a crossroads of deciding whether this is the perfect time to take a gap year. 

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Let us understand more about gap years and the technicalities behind it. What is a gap year? How did it start? What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking it? Why is it necessary? When is the perfect time to take it? Read along and understand more of the nuts and bolts involved in a gap year.

What’s a Gap Year?

Let’s begin by fully comprehending the definition of a gap year. A gap year is a semester or an academic year intended for experiential learning. It usually takes place after graduating from high school and right before proceeding to higher education.

A gap year broadens incoming college students’ perspectives and deepens their logical, practical, professional, and personal awareness. It is usually dubbed as an opportunity for self-discovery and growth. 

Instead of directly enrolling in their chosen major in college, students who have been burnt out in their high school journey would want to take a pause or a breather. This is why a gap year is sometimes referred to as a sabbatical year. It usually lasts a year and does not mean that a student loses its interest in pursuing post-secondary education. They only aim to break from a formal academic education and invest in developing other equally-crucial skills. 

By getting employment in a real-life scenario, they can better understand what a real job feels like or what the corporate world entails. The experience of traveling overseas will also increase their confidence to build relationships with strangers and people from other cultures and practices. Aside from work and travel, some learners consider taking advanced courses in Math, Science, Language studies, or other systems that can give them an advantage. Some focus on developing their sports skills. Whatever they decide to do on their gap year, it will build their skills and talents in specific areas in their lives. 

History of the Gap Year

The birth of gap years goes back to the 1960s. This was when the baby boomer’s generation wanted to take a different pathway from their parents’ experience about wars and aggression. It opened a window of opportunity for foreign nations to exchange their respective cultural ideals, preventing any possibilities of conflict and disagreement. From then on, the gap year industry has grown and continued to expand.

The first gap year organization was established in 1969 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Intending to encourage the youth to build their confidence and stay active in community developments, Dynamy was very dedicated and committed. As gap years continue to grow its familiarity to many people, articles are written about it continuously. One of the most remarkable ever written in the 1980s was the one attributed by Harvard’s former Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons, entitled “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation. This article follows more books and articles about gap years getting published. 

Pros of Taking a Gap Year

Students who are seriously taking gap years should be aware of its two sides, both the bad and good. Additionally, they should also be mindful of how it can affect their communities and their family. It is said that when a student decides to take a gap year, it means they finally take charge and have full responsibility for their own life and decisions.

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Anecdotally, a gap year is both beneficial for the student and the community where they belong. This is because the young person will finally reach its potential for success without support and help. They will have no other choice but to make a strong stance for whatever they believe is right. They learn to navigate through their hurdles and eventually become more assertive on the way. 

Indeed, taking a gap year has its upsides:

Self-confidence, maturity, and independence 

According to the Gap Year Association National Alumni Survey, 97% of their alumni respondents agreed that their gap year has contributed to their maturity as a person. Meeting with strangers and being in a new environment overseas are contributors to make someone grow as a person. Added to that are activities like volunteering, teaching, or working in different organizations, which undoubtedly contributes to self-confidence and self-belief. They might be intimidated at first, but it will all fall into place, and they will come back with a bag full of learnings.

Growing mindfulness

Gap year typically involves going out of one’s comfort zones and getting exposed to cultural exchanges. It usually entails traveling and meeting different people from all walks of life. Since this is not a usual encounter for someone, it can make them more aware of how they act and react to such circumstances and experiences. It sure is a healthy way of discovering more of one’s self.

Lasting networks and friendships

If there is one most exciting thing for most students who go overseas during a gap year, meeting new friends always comes on top of the list. Especially for a friendly and social person, nothing gets more thrilling than going somewhere and building lasting relationships with people worldwide. Not only does this promote interpersonal skills, but this also enhances one’s open-mindedness and respect for individual differences and characteristics.

Discovery and development of soft skills and other talents

Participating in different activities and joining various events will improve existing skillsets and discover more of their talents. For example, one might realize a flair that they had never explored before because there were no opportunities. With a gap year, there is ample time for them to nurture their capabilities consistently.

Self-fulfillment and happiness

There is something about unknown adventures and experiences that make someone feel excited and giddy. The involvements in unusual activities and unique happenings make someone feel contented and happy. These become lifelong memories for them, wherein they can look back and realize that they got away from their comfort zones and tried something new for some point in their lives. 

Cons of Taking a Gap Year

Contrary to all the positive things that a student can earn from a gap year, there are also disadvantages. It goes to say that everything in life is always a balance of yin and yang. A gap year can promise you a once-in-a-lifetime experience and provide you with remarkable memories; they come with a price. Besides, taking a gap year has been quite controversial for some. As many students prefer to have it because they feel it can help them grow, others perceive it as anything.

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Here are some of the potential cons of taking a gap year to eliminate any form of bias.

Gap years are costly and expensive.

Taking a gap year requires money! An overseas ticket could seem pricey, especially for young people, and is financially dependent on their families. If anything, the costs are usually one of the hindrances that some prospective gappers back out on such plans. Costs could quickly add up from tickets, accommodations, food, tuition fees, and other expenditures. Let’s face it; the outlays of such a program could be intimidating for some.

You’re all by yourself.

Perhaps this factor is rather perceived as an advantage by liberating people. Still, some naïve students might grow uncomfortable knowing that no one will be available for them once they need help. If you take a gap year program overseas, you will be most likely on your own to do every task and chores, and not to mention, you will need to handle homesickness, especially in the beginning. 

You start doubting your decisions and start losing momentum.

Taking a gap year is intended for specific reasons and purposes. However, it is inevitable for someone to doubt their decisions and overthink different scenarios. They would sometimes wonder if they won’t be ready to go back to reality after their gap year. They get scared of being stuck in a cycle where they would like to continuously discover themselves because they haven’t done so during the entire gap year. These paranoias are common, and they should never allow these thoughts to distract them from your goals.

It could be troublesome and requires intensive planning.

The thing about gap years is that a student needs to plan it well. Whatever goal or activities they intend to partake during their sabbatical year, it requires planning it. Gap years are often customized because it serves the purpose of self-growth. For some people who are not accustomed to planning, this task could be overwhelming for them. The greatest challenge for some is when they lose heart in the middle of all the planning and end up changing minds.

You will fear falling behind your classmates and peers.

This is perhaps the most common challenge and disadvantage that most gappers experience. Taking a full year off from your academic calendar means you will start college a year later than your classmates and batchmates. It gives an uneasy feeling and may trigger career worries. A one-year delay could mean you’ll be behind with the rest of your friends who did not take a gap year.

Considering A Gap Year

If a student feels trepidation about joining and getting admitted to college and has not yet decided and chosen a major, then taking a gap year might be a sound idea. The selection of a major has started to take its toll on high school graduates in recent years since the development of artificial intelligence and the scope of technology are taking over prospective people’s future jobs, especially in the future. The stress generated from this timing not only originates through this factor; it also focuses on the increasing cost of higher education. Thus, students need even to be surer of their majors because they can’t afford to shift pathways and lose a lot of money in the process.

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If we talk about the stress accumulated during high school years, that is also a different story. A gap year can allow students to take a breather and rest from the educational burden and burn that they have experienced all through their secondary education. High schools could be pretty tough, mainly if a student belonged in a higher and more dynamic educational system. It’s understandably wise for them to pause for a while rather than enroll in college with demotivated spirits. 

Studies show that learners who have taken a gap year perform better in terms of the academic sector than those who didn’t. Research proves this, finding that 90% of students who took a structured gap year soon came right back to start college, eventually graduated on time, and earned a higher GPA. For these reasons and more, a gap year is considered relatively beneficial to a person’s physical, emotional, and mental welfare.

So, must you take a gap year?

Some people treat their educational journey like a conveyor belt wherein it should run smoothly until a product can be entirely manufactured in the end. No matter how pressuring this scenario sometimes feel like, some people continue to push and endure. But what if it gets too suffocating and overwhelming?

Well, the right point of it all is a “pause” button is readily available on the conveyor for one’s disposal. This represents a Gap Year. And any student can control and decide when to take it. The decision, unfortunately, could be a weighty and stressful one. It could impact one’s educational footprint and may influence future opportunities, as well. But it is a choice for oneself to create his or her pathway to success and self-discovery. So, when everything seems a bit more intolerable than usual, a gap year is readily available as an option. 

How to Take a Gap Year

Even if some students might be intimidated by the planning process for a structured gap year, they should overcome getting overwhelmed by it, simply because it is necessary. The first, most crucial step to do is to ask oneself what they would want to accomplish through this gap year. Once this has been established that as a concrete foundation, they may start building its skeletal structure. They must do research and make it as extensive as it gets. They will find many opportunities that are matched with their personal goals. They must establish their own rules too. That way, they won’t lose track and lose momentum. 

We have summarized and itemized the most basic steps that a gapper needs to prepare for when they finally want to start a gap year for easy reference.

Establish a personal goal and plan.

Answer questions like: “How long or what is the duration of my gap year? “What do I wish to accomplish during this break?” It is smart to base this question on the current academic situation and timing for framing and continuance. It is hard to go right back to college after taking a gap year. It is best to plan the post-Gap and know what is needed to do after. How one can process their documents, educational records, and so on must be prepared.

Find the right program and do proper research.

There are countless gap year programs available everywhere. A student can either do it herself or himself or join organizations that offer an all-in program. Some of the reliable sources would be like www.goabroad.com, www.transitionsabroad.com, and www.americorps.gov. It would be smarter to inquire and gather more information about their offered programs. It is then easier to research and evaluate whether a DIY is the best to go, or joining a plan is more beneficial and convenient. 

It is vital to be well-prepared.

Whatever lies ahead in a gap year, a student needs to be ready for it emotionally, mentally, and physically. It is smart to have medical checkups, vaccinations, and medical kits in health emergencies in terms of physical aspects. As for mentally and emotionally elements, one should train their minds and emotions for whatever challenges and unique experiences that they might experience on the way. 

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Whether you are a parent or a student looking to seek more information about gap years, we hope these have shed some light and helped you decide more and have a clearer understanding of it. Contrary to what some people perceive it, taking a gap year is not a sign of failure. It is indeed an excellent medium of opportunity for anyone who seeks to grow as an individual. Of course, it does come with precautions and proper research. But overall, you can succeed in your personal goals, increase maturity as a person, connect with people from all walks of life, and be globally aware of society and humanity.