You’re looking ahead at your schedule, and it does not excite you. At all. In fact, nothing really excites you. You’ve thought dropping out, but that doesn’t feel quite right. Maybe you just need some time away, not indefinite time away? You’re asking yourself: “Should I take a gap year during college? Can I even take a gap year during college?”
By now you’ve likely heard of taking a gap year, the concept of taking a year off before starting college to travel the world and gain personal enrichment. That’s great for all of those wide-eyed, newly-graduated high school students, but what you? You’ve finished a year or two of college already and walking past the same classrooms every day is getting a bit old. You need something new and exciting, an experience to spice things up and make life—and your studies—fun again. You should absolutely consider what it would be like to take a year off from school. Here’s why:
Can I really take a gap year during college?
Yes, it’s a thing! Just like taking time off before starting school, you can mostly definitely take a semester or year off during college, too. There are all sorts of good reasons to take time off, and the fact that you’re reading this article means you’re probably already contemplating a change. If you want to make the most of your time away from lectures and sad cafeteria food, it’s important to consider your options carefully to ensure your gap year during college goes off without a hitch.
Let the record state that not all time off during college is created equal. If your motive to skip out on the next two semesters is to sit at home, play video games until 4am, sleep in until 2pm, eat Taco Bell, then repeat, we're not really speaking to you. We're talking a different type of "year off"—more like a year on. This is dedicated time to explore career paths, get involved with projects that have always piqued your interest, get a job that you are excited , TRAVEL, or spend your time meaningfully engaging in goal-setting, reflection, and experiential learning.
A gap year during college is alllll pushing yourself, your comfort zone, and your limits.
What the experts are saying taking a year off college
If you’ve already floated this idea to your parents, they likely urged you to continue on and finish school as quickly as possible. Maybe they’re worried you won’t return to school after a year away, or they want you to have a degree in hand as you head for the tarmac. While mom and dad probably mean well...
... Taking time off during college can actually benefit you in all kinds of ways, including higher GPAs, increased employability, and a stronger focus on your studies, interests, and goals.
The reports that students who end up taking a year off college return to school at a rate of 90%, and those students commonly obtain higher grades than their peers. Additionally, 75% of returned gap year students feel their experience helped them get a job, mainly due to the skills and self-sufficiency they learned during their year away.
Taking a year off college also helps students define their focus and purpose while giving them a break from everyday academic pressure. states that students who take gap years return to school more motivated and more confident in their interests.
In the end, taking time away from school won’t put you behind your peers. In most cases, it’ll put you farther ahead, giving you an advantage in the classroom, the professional world, and beyond. Even your parents can’t argue with that.
Your favorite celebrities took some time off
Think you’re the only one contemplating putting your studies on hold and taking a year off college to explore the world? Even though you don’t hear it as often as you should, there are tons of people every year who have the same idea. For some of them, it even lead to fame and fortune!
That MacBook you’re reading this on might never had existed if Steve Jobs hadn’t taken a year off college to travel in 1974. Not sure which direction he wanted to follow in life, he was able to clarify his vision after several months in India, where he meditated and contemplated on the company he hoped to build. Another well-known tech genius, Mark Zuckerberg, followed in Jobs’ footsteps in 2008. Taking a gap year during college doesn’t sound half-bad, huh?
Likewise, J.K. Rowling crafted some of the earliest Harry Potter passages during a year in Portugal, where she split her time between writing and teaching English. No doubt having the time to craft Harry’s story in a new environment helped make it into the worldwide success it is today.
Countless other celebrities, from Mike Myers to Benedict Cumberbatch to Prince William, have also benefited from taking a gap year during college to focus on their passions, travel to new places, and experience life differently.
What taking a year off college can do for YOU
Taking a year off college isn’t just an excuse to sit around on the couch and watch Netflix all day. So, what to do during your college break, when you’re taking a semester off or even a full year? Look for opportunities that will help define your interests, teach you new skills, and provide insight into your career goals.
It Can Point You Toward Your Future
It can be hard to relate your textbook case studies to a real-life career, and taking a gap year is a great way to experience working or volunteering in your chosen field. If you’re studying business, volunteering with a non-profit in Chile can give you insight into how management practices work in the real world.
On the other hand, you may discover your real passion quite unexpectedly. Maybe you decided to embark on a trek in Nepal as a break from your engineering studies, only to discover that your real interests lie in public health. Taking a chance on a new experience is a great way to open yourself up to new possibilities (and new degree programs!).
It Can Give You Relevant Real-Life Experience
Even if you’re totally convinced you’ve chosen the right major, taking a gap year during college is a great way to learn new skills in a realistic context. If you’re studying to become a teacher, spending some time teaching English to children in China can provide you with ideas for engaging lesson plans. Tons of internship and volunteer opportunities are available that can give you hands-on experience in your chosen field, with the added allure of experiencing a new country, culture, and language.
You’ll Get More Time to Figure It All Out
If you fall into the “I have no idea what I want to do with my life” category, take heart. When you take a year off from school, you might find the perfect antidote to the stressful deadline of declaring your major. By thinking deliberately what experiences you’d like to have abroad and what you want to gain from them, you’ll bring yourself one step closer to defining your interests and choosing a career path.
Why taking a year off college ISN’T the end of the world
While falling back a year in high school might seem like social suicide, luckily things are a bit more relaxed in college-land. These days, many students take more than four years to finish college due to changing majors, double majors, and taking time off from studies. So why not spend some time away from the lecture hall?
School Will Always Be There
While campus may be the farthest thing from your mind as you conduct field studies in a Costa Rican rainforest, it’s easy to pick right up where you left off when you want to hit the books again. Most schools allow you to take a leave of absence, so coming back is easy. Trying to find authentic gallo pinto on campus, on the other hand, might be a bit more difficult.
Trust Us: One Year Isn’t THAT Long
Time might drag on during your three hour bio lab, but you can bet that any time spent abroad will pass by in a flash. A whole year away from your friends, classes, and student clubs might feel like an eternity now, but that FOMO will disappear as soon as you step off the plane in Thailand. Rest assured, whatever you have planned is guaranteed to be more interesting than the typical weekend party back home.
It Will Teach You Responsibility
Sure, you’ve already learned how to do your own laundry and make some darn good instant mac and cheese. But what having to figure out the bus schedule in Tokyo or barter for lunch at a market in Dakar? Even if you choose to travel with a program, the skills you’ll gain toward self-sufficiency, from money management to personal safety, will continue to help you when you return home.
It Will Make You a Better Student
It seems counter-intuitive, but time away from class can actually improve your grades and overall student experience. Taking a break from papers and group projects can remind you why you’re getting a degree in the first place, and you’ll bring that enthusiasm back to campus when your gap year is finished. Spending time abroad can also reveal new interests, so don’t be surprised if you end up changing majors when you get back!
Take a year off college with these awesome programs
The best part taking a year off college is that the options are literally endless. Whether you want to volunteer, intern, study, or make it up along the way, your itinerary is yours alone and you get to control the who, what, when, where, and why. But just in case you need a little boost to start those ideas flowing, check out these programs guaranteed to give you the best gap year ever:
If you want to spend your gap year giving back, check out International Volunteer HQ for volunteer opportunities in over 35 countries. Project options are plentiful and you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like at a particular site. Whether you want to spend nine months doing sports education in Uganda or three months helping rural communities in Sri Lanka, this program has you covered.
- Pros: This program is one of the most affordable volunteer programs around, and fees are generally low considering housing and meals are included. The number of options offered also ensure you’ll find a project that’s the right fit for your goals.
- Cons: Like many volunteer programs, this isn’t a vacation and your organization expects you to show up, be responsible, and fulfill your obligations. This isn’t the right choice for students who want to spend a lot of time traveling around and sightseeing.
- Related: Read International Volunteer HQ reviews |
This organization offers both volunteer and internship programs all over the world along with 24/7 in-country support, giving you peace of mind as you provide service to your host community. Whether you’re mentoring small business owners in Cambodia or running shark conservation projects in Fiji, you’re sure to amass a boatload of new skills before returning home.
- Pros: Volunteering abroad is a great way to dive deep into your host culture and immerse yourself in the local way of life. Not only will you be gaining hard skills at your volunteer or internship site, but you’ll also learn flexibility, adaptability, and cultural awareness.
- Cons: Fees for certain projects or countries might be higher than you’d expect to volunteer your time, but keep in mind that this cost pays for your housing, meals, and travel insurance, too. The personal and educational benefits that come from volunteering will stay with you far into the future.
- Related: Read Projects Abroad reviews |
If you’d rather intern than volunteer, The Intern Group can help you gain professional work experience in major cities around the globe. If you’re sure of your career path and want to beef up your resume, spending a couple of months getting hands-on experience is a great way to get ahead.
- Pros: Gaining work experience is a practical way to take time off from school while still making progress toward career goals. Additionally, you’ll get to experience a new culture and meet other interns from around the world through shared housing and social activities.
- Cons: Not all internships are paid, but all interns are expected to be reliable employees, working full-time during the week. While you may not be in class during your time abroad, this is no vacation, so be prepared to work hard and learn at every opportunity.
- Related: Read The Intern Group reviews |
If you’re not interested in a structured schedule or staying in one place, Pacific Discovery might be the perfect option when taking a semester off. Their semester-long programs are for students between 18 and 24 years old, and they take care of it all, from housing to transportation to daily activities. Just choose a region of the world that interests you and get ready for an epic adventure!
- Pros: Many schools accept Pacific Discovery programs for college credit, so you technically don’t have to leave your studies behind, even while you’re floating down the Mekong river. This also means that financial aid and scholarships may be available to help you pay for your trip.
- Cons: This is a highly structured program and you’ll be spending the majority of your time with a small group of other students. While this can lead to strong friendships, the constant travel and interaction may be difficult for some introverts or highly independent travelers.
- Related: Read Pacific Discovery reviews |
Are you ready?
You don’t need to wait until you have your degree in hand to get out and explore the world. So go on, hit the pause button, and take a gap year during college. Taking a semester off—or a full year—is worthy of applause. Instead of setting you back, spending time abroad will actually propel you forward, giving you insights yourself, your interests, and the world. Why wait?