What is a Gap Year?

The concept of a gap year has had a more recent emergence into the American “market”, so-to-speak, but has been a long-time practice for European countries and beyond. According to a study conducted by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research, and Education, more than 50 percent of students in Norway, Denmark, and Turkey took a year off before beginning their college experience.

It is more than a possible step for those who want to know themselves better, tap into personal passions, meet new people, and generally explore career options. Although it’s gaining popularity in the U.S., it’s still very much a foreign idea for many. I wanted to dive into the definition of a gap year and where its mounting popularity is coming from.

What is a Gap Year?

The term ‘gap year’ doesn’t really have a ubiquitous definition, although the countless rewards could be defined as such. I was pleasantly surprised to not only find various definitions of it online but also an entire association devoted to it – their website is worth checking out.

They defined the gap year as the following, “A semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

Easy enough, right? While I don’t totally agree with a gap year falling only after high school, I do agree with the rest. The main thing that I can say about a gap year is that it’s worth considering – I wish I had done one sooner. Is a gap year something you would consider?

AdventureEXP views the gap year as a tangible opportunity for people that are looking to pursue an alternative path of working and traveling. Those who are open to adventure and a little bit of the unknown, but still find comfort in having support along the way.

AdventureEXP values the core principle of a gap year, experiential learning, and we offer it through a destination work experience. We believe that a gap year should be something that is affordable and helps you grow & learn along the way.

When is a good time for a gap year?

Many people tend to think a gap year should happen after high school. In actuality, it could fall between two semesters, between two jobs, or simply be a break from your current career pursuits. It really doesn’t matter as long as it makes sense for you and your goals. This article by Rebecca Alwine goes into greater detail about that.

As I said, the most popular time to take a gap year is between high school and whatever your next step might be. Assumably your next step would be college or another form of higher learning. There are several reasons why this is a popular time, but I think the most important is that college is a BIG decision. So big, that it’s important to take time to come to your decision. Hello, gap year.

Another opportune moment for a gap year is when you’re in a career or job you don’t love – trust me I know many people who have done this before the age of 30. Our founder, Adam, is actually a prime example of this as he discussed while sharing his post-college experience.

It’s not news that people leave their careers and switch to a new job or industry, but they often do so without any room for thought in between. This is, however, a perfect moment to consider your next steps and a gap year can provide that time for consideration.

What are the options for a gap year?

Beyond the timing of your grand adventure, what you want to do during this time is an even more important consideration as it’s not the same for everyone. Take your time, do your research, and really think about which option might be the best for you and your goals.

Work-travel Programs & Internships

A destination work program, such as those offered through AdventureEXP, allows for you to combine the best of both travel & work. You can take a period of time to work in a specialized position that not only earns you money during this explorative period of your life but also gives you transferable experience for your career.

Volunteering, Not Voluntourism

Volunteering comes in many shapes and sizes between the level of commitment, how far from home you’ll be volunteering, and the length of your stay. Most volunteer programs are pretty flexible and can be coordinated to coincide with other volunteer gigs too if you’d like. Sometimes it’s a great option to spend 1-3 months at one place, then move to another, giving you a variety of experiences.

Traveling, Sweet Traveling

Pure travel is not something many people have truly, truly experienced and it isn’t for the faint of heart because it can really test your limits. Going on a year-long adventure around the country or the globe can be something you’ll never forget. It’s also a healthy break from our scheduled and routine-filled realities that it can be a breath of fresh air for some, while others might find it to be stressful (sounds counterintuitive, right?).

Benefits of a Gap Year

There are numerous benefits to taking even just a short break from life to discover yourself, but a full semester or even year is even more beneficial. Life offers us the chance to work at many jobs, pursue many degrees of higher learning, and pursue many big goals, so taking breaks along the way to reassess and reconnect with yourself may not be such a crazy concept.

Here are a few of the benefits of a gap year, as reported by past ‘gappers’ in the 2020 Gap Year Association Alumni Survey:

  • Learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds or cultures
  • Increased maturity
  • Improved level of confidence
  • Increase academic motivation
  • Provides a competitive advantage when applying to jobs or college
  • Influences your career choices

A working gap year provides professional and practical experience for your next job. You can also use the year as a way to change industries without a major risk involved. As you saw from the survey results, a gap year often helps influence what career choices you make afterward and provides an increased level of competitiveness against non ‘gappers’.

Common Misconceptions of Taking Part in a Gap Year

A gap year is still a greatly misunderstood concept, even despite the efforts of participants to share their experiences. Although the numerous benefits are out there for people to discover, parents, students, and everyone in between fear that taking time away from your career or school can hurt your chances of success. Many might wonder, what happens after?

As the Gap Year Association’s survey pointed out, it can actually improve the odds of finding a job for those who are graduating or in between careers. The participants noted that their gap year experiences gave them an edge over their competition.

If you still have college to return to, feel assured that you will make it there. According to research noted by the Gap Year Association, 90 percent of students who went on a gap year returned to college within one year. The money you earn during a gap year might also support paying your tuition.

Bob Clagett, former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, also debunked another myth about the gap year: participants’ grades will suffer. His research found that ‘gappers’ actually performed better than non-participants of a gap year. This higher performance lasted throughout their four years at a university.

A final misconception about a gap year is that only the wealthy can afford it. While we admit that external influences can affect the ability for someone to participate in a gap year, Adventure EXP knows that a gap year can be achievable for almost anyone. There are numerous scholarships out there for supporting ‘gappers’ and moreover, destination work experiences like those offered by AdventureEXP can help you earn money while at your new home-away-from-home.

The words gap year may be misunderstood by many, but don’t let that stop you from considering its numerous benefits. It could be just the thing you need to feel refreshed and ready for the next step in your career, whatever that may be.

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