The Benefits of a Gap Year

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 22, 2009 · 54 comments

in Money & Career

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From age 5 to age 22, most men ride a non-stop conveyor belt of education.  Until a man graduates from college or graduate school, he is expected to faithfully show up each fall with pencils and textbooks in hand. Have you ever taken a step back and wondered why? Why must schooling be a non-stop process until you are done? Who says?

Lads in places like Australia and the UK have rejected that theory for some time now. 10% of men and women in those countries allow themselves a gap year: a year off to explore the world and test themselves. The gap year is a tradition that is slowly growing in popularity in other places like North America. And with good reason, too.

30% of college freshman don’t return for their sophomore year and untold numbers of men don’t decide on their major until their junior or senior years (sometimes as a 5th or 6th year senior). They ride the conveyor belt on and on before it abruptly ends, leaving them with a liberal arts major major, no plan for the future, and without the confidence and skills needed to really begin living on their own.

I certainly could have ended up that way. My freshman year I piddled around, staying up late playing video games and hardly ever cracking open my books. I ended the year with a 2.8 grade point average and no feeling of being closer to maturity or knowing what I wanted out of life.

But I didn’t return for my sophomore year. Instead I found myself in Tijuana, Mexico, thousands of miles from home, speaking Spanish, and meeting people from every walk of life. When I came back to the States two years later, I was a different person. I had manned up in a huge way. I had a new work ethic, greater focus, and the confidence to forge a path for my future. I knew what I wanted out of life. I graduated college with a degree in liberal arts major, the best wife in the world, and a plan for my life.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a period of time (and really it could be as short as a semester or as long as a couple of years) a person takes off between or during their education years. It’s most popular to take after high school graduation and before starting college. But it can be undertaken any time you’re in college, or after you graduate from college and before taking a job or going to graduate school. Gap years used to be the privilege of the rich; a man could wander around Europe while living off his trust fund. But for many service-type trips, all you really need is airfare to and from your destination. And many jobs will pay you enough that you can actually save some dough while you do them.

The choices of what to do during one’s gap year are limited only by your creativity and desires. You can travel, teach, intern, perform service, or some combination of each. People work on conservation projects in national parks, build wells in third world countries, do missionary work for their church, teach English in Asia, become sailors, and so on.

The important thing in choosing your experience is to seek an adventure that will help you grow as a man, an experience that will truly challenge you emotionally, physically, and intellectually. It’s essential that the experience push you far from your comfort zone. A gap year should not be about extending one’s adolescence; instead, it should serve as a rite of passage, propelling you from boy to man.

An entire industry has sprouted up around the gap year experience; you can hire consultants and companies to find and provide the experience for you. Such businesses may be helpful to an extent, and there’s nothing wrong with finding a structured program with which to do your gap year. But make sure there’s not too much handholding involved. The whole point of the experience is to grow up-to strike out on your own, and be forced to survive by your own wits.

Why Take a Gap Year?

To Gain Greater Focus. It’s easy to waste a lot of time in college, getting caught up in the partying or paralyzed by indecision in choosing a major. And it’s hard to figure out what you want to do with your future. Don’t spend  that time figuring it out on a $30,000 tuition bill. A gap year gives you an experience where you really get to know yourself and what you want out of life. You’ll learn how to be self-reliant. You’ll come back to college with a sense of what your goals are and how to achieve them. So not only can a gap year give you some needed direction, it’ll save you some money in the long run.

To Man Up. Even when you go off to school, mom and dad are often just a short drive or a phone call away. Whenever you have a dilemma, you can call them up and let them tell you how to figure it out. Really breaking away from your old life will force you to make decisions entirely on your own.

To Build Your Resume. Showing your potential employer that you spent a year building wells in Uganda will set your apart from those whose only work experience was waitering at Applebee’s.

To Learn a Foreign Language. A year is sufficient time to become fluent in many foreign languages. It’s a skill you’ll have for the rest of you life and one that employers find very attractive.

You’ll return to a (hopefully) stronger economy. If you’re graduating from college or graduate school right now, you know the job market stinks a big one. Why not duck out for a year, gain some valuable skills, and return with an expanded resume to a (hopefully) improved economy?

Gap Year Ideas

As I mentioned above, the options for your gap year experience are limitless. In my opinion, the best gap year combines doing something fun you’ve always wanted to do with the learning of a valuable skill. For example, if you’ve always wanted to live in New York City and think you might want to be an educator, become an Americorps volunteer in a school there. Or if you’ve always been fascinated by art and wanted to live in Paris, get an internship at the Louvre. Of course, there’s also value in simply doing something that you’ll probably never use again, something really out there, just for the hell of it and for an experience you’ll never forget. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you’d like to do:

Work on a fishing boat in Alaska. Have you’ve been watching “Deadliest Catch” and think you might want to try to make a lot of money while risking a watery tomb? Well hold on there partner; it’s extremely difficult to get a job catching crab as an inexperienced greenhorn. Despite the dangers, plenty of men are willing to take the risk in order to make 6 months salary in a few days. So you’ll have to work your way up, getting experience fishing salmon and working more low key jobs before you’ll even be considered.

Work on a sailboat. If working on a deck where icy waves crash overhead doesn’t have any appeal, but the ocean still calls to you, consider working on a sailboat in some capacity. You can find work on tour boats and educational boats and learn to be a real skipper.

Become a forest firefighter. It’s something a lot of men have dreamed about doing. Living in the woods, dousing a raging wildfire, jumping out of a plane. The bad news is that it’s not as glamorous as your imagination. The good news is that you can get hired if you’re truly persistent.

Join the Peace Corps. There’s a lot of “me-time” when you’re a college student. After thinking about your needs, goals, and desires for four years, you might be itching to concentrate solely on other people’s for a few. You’ve lived for 22 years, why not give back 10% of those years to serving other people and trying to make a difference in the world? While we often think of living in a grass hut in Fiji or farming in Africa when we think of the Peace Corps, these days you’re just as likely to be teaching in a school or working to spread computer literacy.

Join Americorps. If you world travel doesn’t interest you, and you’re not ready to make the two year commitment required by the Peace Corps, check out Americorps. Americorps is a federally-funded program like the Peace Corps, in which you sign up for a year of being a full-time volunteer. The number of Americorps opportunities are endless; you can work with the elderly, build trails, do disaster relief, tutor children, teach ESL and so on. “Americorps” is really an umbrella for thousands of different organizations you can sign up to volunteer with. Kate did a year of Americorps, and it was one of the best years of her life. She served with the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers and highly recommends that program.

Become a Park Ranger. If you love nature and wish you could center your life on it for awhile, becoming a park ranger could be a great option for you. National and state parks have a variety of permanent, temporary, and seasonal positions to strike your fancy.

Work for Outward Bound. If you love nature and you love adventure activities and you love young people, then working for a cool company like Outward Bound would be perfect for your gap year. You get to take adventurous wilderness trips and help change lives. Nice.

Teach English Abroad. Teaching English abroad is one of the most accessible ways to spend some serious and immersive time in a foreign land. There’s a big demand, it doesn’t require special skills, and you often get paid decently. But you’ll likely need to get some kind of certification in teaching English.

Become a Merchant Marine. The Merchant Marines have always been an outlet for young men looking for some adventure. To get a gig with the MM, you have to first contact the Coast Guard. You may also wish to take a free 24 week course offered by the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education at the Seafarers Harry Lundberg School of Seamanship which is an entry level training program for young people seeking careers in the US maritime industry.

Note: As you surf the web looking for gap year opportunities, beware of many scams out there that tell you they can land you a job or tell you the secrets of landing a job…for a price. You won’t be able to find most cool jobs by going through a website. A lot of times you just need to show up and be incredibly persistent.

Did you take a gap year? What did you do? Share your experiences with us in the comments section.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Bull June 22, 2009 at 6:58 am

Couldn’t agree more with the idea of a “gap” year (or maybe two). I spent, or should say mis-spent, two years in college before I failed out and took a year off to work full time. It wasn’t until I worked for a year in an office that I realized I needed a career that didn’t involve me sitting behind a desk. I went back to school after that year off and graduated in four years with honors. I wish I had taken that year off prior to wasting time and money on college without any clear direction.

2 Hallock June 22, 2009 at 8:10 am

There’s a rather funny “Stuff White People Like” post on gap-years, about how most would view education as an achievement, whereas others see it as a burden and need to take a year off.

Joking aside, I think a gap-year can be a good thing. I’m a transfer student in my matriculation, originally majoring in political theory and constitutional democracy. I don’t regret my experience, but I do wonder how things may have changed had I taken some time away.

3 Sam June 22, 2009 at 8:11 am

Thanks! This was a good article. I have thought about taking a gap year, and now i am considering it even more. My main goal lately has been that I want to become more of a man. I think this would be a great experience, especially working on a boat or traveling abroad. I love those options.

4 Chewy June 22, 2009 at 8:17 am

This article was exactly what I needed!

I was a full-time student for the last 5 years with no real direction and terrible grades before finally getting academically dismissed this past semester. I never gave myself a year off, as I always figured “it HAD to be done”..so it’s been nice lately to hear that there’s other paths in life to take to get to the goal. The Merchant Marine option was something I’ve been HEAVILY considering(and I only live about 2 1/2 hours away from the school, which is another plus) and it might be what I choose to do with my own “gap year”

Thanks for this awesome article, Brett!

5 John June 22, 2009 at 8:39 am

Just keep in mind, you’ll miss out on a whole year of salary if you take a year off.

6 Nick June 22, 2009 at 9:00 am

And then again, if you spend a whole year trying to make some “salary”, you’ll miss a whole year of actually living and learning and loving and growing.

How much can you grow and learn flipping burgers or maintaining coffee encrusted break-room equipment and polishing the “photocopying” section on your resume…

After I did 4 years of USAF, during which time I got in two years of a bachelor’s degree…I moved to Paris, where I lived for 11 years, then to New York for 5 or 6 years, which brought me to Hawaii for another 5 years, which brought me to Australia for another 5 years, and now to…Hanoi…North Vietnam…

Not rich, not poor, but my life has been more interesting than the lives of 90% of the guys reading this post.

I speak a few languages too, which exponentially increased the chances with the ladies wherever I’ve been. Just got married here, so I’ll probably be slowing down the “every 5 years or so” pattern…

I dropped “out” and “in” as it has suited me.

There’s more than one way to live a man’s life, guys.

7 Nick June 22, 2009 at 9:02 am

…oh yeah, and I finished my degree while I was in Paris…and I occasionally make easy money translating things from French to English to this day…you’ll never miss the money. You can make money at any age, you can’t remake the days of your youth when you’re old and responsible for others…Nick

8 Jon jon Wes June 22, 2009 at 9:21 am

I’m 20, and I’ve taken two years as a gap year. Most people said if i took off time, I would never return to college, but I’m heading to school next fall.

Year one I spent in a group of like minded individuals at an institution focused on leadership, Christian thought, and worldview. We spent a month traveling Europe also (IMPACT360.net).

The first semester of the second year was spent in the wilderness in Colorado being taught by an unconventional Socratic teacher from Hillsdale college about the four diagnostic questions of life (1. what is a good life, and what good is life? 2. what is a good love, and what good is love? 3. What is a good death and what good is death? and 4. what does it mean to be human?). That semester was spent in log cabins without a cell phone, and only an hour of internet a week. (http://www.summit.org/institutes/semester/)

The second semester of year two was spent traveling the states, ( TN–twice, AL–Twice, NC–twice, Georgia–ten times, NYC–once, and all over FL), working, and being with family. I’m enrolled to attend School in NYC in the Fall. (ww.tkc.edu)

All in all, well worth it.

9 DavidRY June 22, 2009 at 9:24 am

The idea behind a Gap year is definitely harder once you get out of college and have to deal with the monthly bills of a student loan. The best I could manage was a gap four months of living in small-town Kentucky with extended family and working as a substitute teacher. It did make me appreciate members of my family that I hadn’t been able to spend time with growing up, and it helped that the only way I stayed out of poverty was due to their generosity.

I think what prevented me from originally taking time off for myself was that I was good in school and didn’t know much else at the time ya know? Part of going to college right out of high school was continuing to do something that I knew I could succeed at instead of taking the risk and venturing out to do something different. Definitely trying to challenge my younger siblings as they approach the same decision. Thanks for the article, sending them this link will surely help.

10 Jdanburg June 22, 2009 at 9:45 am

The value of the gap year cannot be overemphasized, as I found it transformative and allowed me to focus my interests after I graduated college.

In fact, there is the possibility that if you are interested in helping to change the world, can speak Spanish, and can devote at least 6 months of your time to working in a coastal town in the Dominican Republic to try to alleviate poverty by improving the environment, I may be able to help you by helping my program which is working through an Ivy League university.

Send an email to jdanoffb@nycap.rr.com for more information.

11 Len June 22, 2009 at 10:23 am

My wife and I have talked about a gap year for our girls for almost 10 years now. Our plan for them is they will serve with some friends of ours who run a mission in Haiti for six months. They can then have 3 months for other travel and three months to transition back to “normalcy” and prepare for college. Our oldest is now a freshman in high school and knows that is the plan.

It gives a perspective on what is important and hopefully a maturity towards life that other college students often lack.

12 Connor June 22, 2009 at 10:40 am

After my freshman year of college I spent two years as a missionary for the Mormon church in Honduras. It was an amazing and transformative experience, and I believe that those two years greatly helped me mature and learn values, skills, and characteristics to help me become a better man.

13 PaulW June 22, 2009 at 10:57 am

I spent two years directly after high school serving a mission with my church. . .I started college at 21. I don’t think I would have done nearly as well as I did in college had I started right away. During my mission experience I learned to comprehend and study more effectively and I matured. When I did start college I was much more prepared physically and mentally then I would have been otherwise.

I would definitely recommend a “gap year” or two. . .break out of your comfort zone. . .do something constructive. . .

14 Paul June 22, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Amen! Do not force your way through college. I went to college for a year, then took a “semester off” … long story short, seven years, twenty odd jobs and 100 adventures later I went back in and finished my degree. Bonus: Getting a degree is so easy when you are older and wiser.

15 Jake June 22, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Well, I’m going to be a senior in high school this fall and for the past year I’ve felt stuck in a rut. This gap year is starting to sound like a great idea, even though my parents probably wouldn’t like it.

16 Brian June 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm

@Jake,

Don’t worry if your parents give you a hard time or if your friends give you smack if you’re looking into this gap year. I’m majoring in int’l business and heading to China all next year (junior year) to become competent in Mandarin. After college, I’m doing the gap year idea and heading to Italy to learn Italian – that’s one of my dreams.

Don’t let your dreams or aspirations be knocked down by people who aren’t ambitious or resourceful enough to pursue their own.

17 James June 22, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I didn’t take a gap year between high school and college; I didn’t take any time off from the conveyor belt until after I’d already spent two years in a job that didn’t really thrill me. Then I spent seven months hitchhiking around the US, and a year and a half later I thruhiked the Appalachian Trail. Both experiences made me realize the importance of getting out and really living. I’m enrolling in college for the fall again, but I’ve learned that what’s importance is not “education.” That’s just a code word for a signifier for class privilege, which is why a gap year is something “White People Like” and why college and its accouterments don’t seem terribly necessary for a white male like me. Real education never happens in a classroom. If you can afford it, the gaps in your life shouldn’t be gaps between one stretch of doing what society expects and the next stretch of doing the exact same thing. The gaps should be when you take a break from adventure to remind yourself of why the conveyor belt sucks while milking the mainstream for the resources it accumulates in its incestuous processes of self-perpetuation. So, college in the fall!

18 Drew June 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm

I think you’re a little remiss in not at least mentioning Teach for America (http://www.teachforamerica.org/) in your list. It’s aimed for people who just got their undergraduate degrees rather than those entering college, but it’s a great program. I’ve had several friends go through it and speak very highly of it.

19 lou June 22, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I took a few years off before going to university and even then I wasn’t ready. I’m now 25 and back studying, waiting was the best thing I’ve done for my education because now I’m doing it because I want to not because it’s what I should do.

20 Andrew Barbour June 22, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I had a rocky high school career during which I basically dropped out for a semester. Once I got myself together, I went back for the last semester and graduated in December. So for the remainder of that school year and the entirety of the next, I took time off. Basically, I worked (Starbucks, Borders, waited tables, etc.), and did not do much living with a capital “L”. However, the value was in instilling in me the value of a good education–as I said, my high school career was a mess (truancy hearings, alternative ed, psychological counseling, blah blah blah).

Once I got to college, I did well. I did semesters abroad in two countries, a double major, and got a solid foundation for getting into law school. That’s the result of my gap year. Back then I thought I was wasting my time, but in retrospect, it was the fuel for the fire I have burning in me today.

21 Brian June 22, 2009 at 8:30 pm

I feel like the AoM is starting to have a huge influence on my life. After reading most if not all of the articles, I now own an old school safety razor, own and ride a motorcycle, and am now making plans to travel to Italy for a year after I graduate to learn the language.

Keep on posting high quality articles and I won’t mind AoM’s huge influence on my life. :-D

22 Parlan June 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm

@ Brian, I’m glad I’m not the only. I have two safety razors, just got my motorcycle license, and after being laid off from one job, I’m going to find a new one in the country where I spent my Gap Year.

It’s been 10 years now, and in some ways, that Gap Year never ended…

23 Jack June 22, 2009 at 10:28 pm

I would have to disagree with your articl. As a student at the University of Alberta I have seen many of my friends leave for a year off to never actually return back to school, and those who do quickly leave school, used to not having to go to school. A gap year between graduating from school and “life” would be great and benificial, taking one before or during school is much to risky.

24 papachango June 22, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Good to see you Amercians are finally clueing up to the idea of taking a year off. As you correctly point out, here in Australia it’s pretty much an established tradition (I stretched it out to 2 years of travelling and working in various contries), and I’d argue it’s even more needed in the US as, especially if you get a job in Corporate Amercia once you graduate, by all accounts the early years of work are not much fun – I can’t believe you only have 1 or 2 weeks vacation, we complain that four is not enough!

Sorry if this is putting down you particular Gap year experience and it’s good that you learnt a second language, but seriously, Tijuana? If you lived in San Diego this would merely be another suburb, not thousands of miles from home. The Australian equivalent is Bali, a heavily-touristed Indonesian island 4 hours away by plane. If any Aussie said they spent their Gap year in Bali they’d be laughed at!

Maybe you did amazing things, worked with the homeless etc and if so good for you. But you could have ventured a tad further afield

25 Ravin Kumar June 23, 2009 at 12:32 am

I totally agree with this gap year mentality. I am 20 myself and in college but I did not receive a gap year. I must say that I am barely maintaining focus on college myself and am facing the issues that were mentioned in this article.
While I am able to maintain enough focus to get good grades I find myself losing it more and more everyday. It is hard to stay stay on the path when you’re blind to the world. I don’t know what’s out there and I don’t know how I’ll fit, I’m just getting this degree to hopefully prepare myself but to be honest I am not sure how much it’s going to help. A gap year would have helped me have more experiences about where I want to be and picked the education necessary.
Nonetheless I am confident that engineering will benefit me and I am dedicated to it but many of my peers are not.
I feel if some of them had had a gap year they wouldn’t be wasting their time and taxpayer dollars getting an education they hate anyway.

26 Greg June 23, 2009 at 5:30 am

Thing about a “gap year” is this: It seems like an affectation for the privileged. By privileged, I mean those who can afford to take a year off, without financial distress, or loss of student funding. If you don’t know what you want to major in, use the “gap” year at a Community college, taking some survey courses and fulfilling the core lower division classes. To mangle a quote, “..as a transfer student, your bachelors degree still says USC or Cal…” Besides, a Community college does expose you to a far more diverse group of people that the frosh year at a four year school.

27 Steve June 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

Spent a summer on a type 6 Engine for the USFS – North Kaibab, loved it. While it wasn’t a gap year activity (just a summer b/w college years) I’d still highly recommend it anyway. The “season” usually runs from about late April to somewhere in October.

28 Mike June 23, 2009 at 7:40 am

I had no interest in a gap year coming out of high school; I knew what I wanted to do: play football and get a degree in economics to set myself up for something involving money.

I broke my leg the first scrimmage of my senior year and was forced to face the prospect of that being the last play of my football career or taking a semester off to get a redshirt and have one more year (my school had no graduate option). I took the semster off and worked two jobs (programming computers and bouncing at an international club on weekends). Along with this I weight trained for football for 2 hours after work and cross trained by doing judo. It was one of the most crazy and exhausting periods of my life, but it immensely benefited me looking back on it. I found a new level of dedication and self-motivation that I didn’t know I had. The other thing I noticed was that I was a much more efficient and focused worker and a much more balanced and centered person when I went back to school.

I don’t think that you need to go to an exotic location nor give up making money in your gap year (the jobs paid quite well combined), but you do need to put yourself in situations you otherwise never would go. Also you need to realize what your life would look like if you never went to college and what it is to work for a living.

29 Victor June 23, 2009 at 8:36 am

I used to be very disappointed in myself when I took the ‘easy way out’ and joined the Marines at 18. I graduated with honors at the age of 17 but, without prior planning and my parent filing bankruptcy, I had no way to pay for college. While I have taken some clep test recently and am starting to finally start thinking more seriously about college, I still dont know what I want to do in life (previously doctor). I am on my second enlistment (midway through year 5 of 8) but I have already been to Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. I am currently trying to go overseas again to Europe. I have met many people from different walks of life, military and civilian, who have taught me much. At 18 I was trained to kill and throught my career, taught to lead. Reading this has made me realize that I have not wasted my time in any way. I have just taken a gap year (or 8) but I am still learning from many things in the world and many different people and it has made me a man that I dont think I couldve grown to be if I have not had the experiences thats been laid out before me.

30 Victor June 23, 2009 at 8:39 am

All the happy faces in my post above are supposed to be the number eight.

31 Santa June 23, 2009 at 8:52 am

I took a year off because I was so stressed from working my life away at an office 5 days a week for 10 yrs… so I purposely got myself fired, collected unemployment checks for 8 months in 2006 and used that money to support myself while I traveled the east and west coast of the US, South America, and then went to Orlando Fl and found a part-time job at Disney World (which got me free access to all the parks and the most sex I ever had in my life.)… BEST time of my life! Now I’m back at an office working my life away…

32 Valla June 24, 2009 at 8:05 am

Another interesting option is WWOOFing, which I haven’t done myself but I know several people have. It’s not really a year-long kind of thing, but certainly doable for a couple of months. Here’s the website: http://www.wwoof.org/

The idea is that through this organization you contact individual, family-run organic farms around the world; from what I know, most of them only produce enough to sell their stuff locally, so these farms are relatively small, i.e. the owners are not just administrators but work the land, too! Once you’ve settled on a farm, you have to take care of the travel there and back, but your living expenses are covered entirely by the farm/family: typically you live with them and will be more or less treated as a family guest during your stay. In return, you work on the farm with them, learning skills and enjoying a period of time getting connected with the roots of man, both in a historical sense and a nutritional sense. Depending on where you go (i.e. non-modernized countries), it’s also a good opportunity to seriously take yourself off the grid for a period of time.

Also, as I was perusing the website while writing this, I discovered their sub-page below which lists a number of other organizations that are well suited to gap-year travels and activities. I know my comment is coming late, but there are a lot of resources here that I think are viable enough to add to the post…

http://www.wwoof.org/otherorgs.asp

33 Dave June 24, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Wow I wish I had done this at 18 and later at 21. I had a decent job at the time and feel working would have been so much better for a year at 18 and at 21. (I had an office job from 17 to 22) I know the idea of working in an office isn’t as interesting or romantic as travelling, but I think I would have grown up more. I was also burnt out from academics in HS – I graduated in the top 5 students and was PBK in college. I dont say this to brag – maybe it’s a warning. When I went to law school I was so sick of academics, professors who never spent a day in the real world and their bs – bratty trust fund kids who never worked a day in their life – in short the people you meet in most grad schools. I just didnt care anymore about school as “school” was no longer a challenge. I have a decent job now and teach college. I see students every semester who should just stop wasting their time in school and get a job or just do something other than waste thier time and money.

34 Nathan Gilmer July 1, 2009 at 10:25 am

Man. This post really got me thinking. I am working on finishing up my degree but I have no clue how to get involved in the career I want. I really want to work for a humanitarian organization that works internationally.
Maybe Ill go to Africa when I graduate and help out there until I get some better clarity. hrmmmm

35 Nathan Gilmer July 1, 2009 at 10:29 am

@Jack – What is so wrong with not coming back to school? I think our society is way to obsesses with school. Sometimes its fine to just start working.

36 Dan July 1, 2009 at 11:10 am

I’m 41 years old, and went the high school to college to the workplace route. While I am very happy with my life, I would have LOVED the opportunity and adventure a gap year would have provided. I wish I read this article 23 years ago.

37 Peter July 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

Interesting. Guess many folks don’t have families, don’t have parents needing help, and for the most part didn’t have an idea of what they wanted to do anyway. My experience based on folks I knew who took “gap years” is that the majority never went back to school, never went anywhere, then got stuck in menial jobs and didn’t do much to improve or distinguish themselves.
I have no issue if you want to take a year off, but I don’t see why you can’t do it as part of schooling. I had opportunities in college to intern over the summer or during semesters in other countries, and my kids want to do so and I’m encouraging them to do so. To me a year or two off *is* an indulgence if all you’re doing is blowing time sitting in one place sucking beers, not contributing, and not looking forward to anything.

38 Sean July 2, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I like the idea of a gap year, in fact I liked it so much I’ve taken about 9 of them.

The problem I saw was that after just six months on my own I matured so much that college felt like such a step back. I had fallen into a professional job where I had sophomore and junior interns from USC working for me. At that point, I didn’t any longer know why I needed to go to college. It wasn’t until I was about 23 that I really learned I needed to go, by that time though, it was too late. To go back to college I would have to do night classes or continuing ed, but could never go and get drunk at a frat and hook up with cheerleaders… and really if you can’t do that, what’s the point of going to college?

So I say take the gap, but make sure you don’t let it go any longer than that. Or else you could be me.

39 Jon Cassidy July 7, 2009 at 10:00 am

I’m writing from the UK. Gap years have been slowly becoming a rite of passage for many school leavers over here, with employers and universities giving much more importance to their benefits in their applicants. The same principle stands as with anything you do, it does need to be worthwhile and well planned. Whether this means you do some volunteering, work experience or an expedition put together by an organisation, or if you just plan it all yourself, either are fine, as long as you can show how you have grown in experience or maturity because of it.

If anyone is thinking of doing any volunteering or aid work, and you are looking for an organisation to sort it out for you, it is crucial make sure you do plenty of research. There are some fantastic projects out there but there are also some which are perhaps there more for the volunteers “experience” rather than any real benefit for the project. No one wants to travel half way round the world to work on a project which isn’t worthwhile, or that they are actually not suitably qualified for.

There is a very good independent website – http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org – which gives some guidance as to the sort of questions people should ask any volunteer organisation before committing to a project, well worth a look.

There is so much to do out there, and so many options. Do take the time to research and plan though.

40 Helen July 9, 2009 at 6:24 am

Great article. I work for a youth and education charity called Raleigh International. Raleigh runs adventurous and challenging expeditions for people of all backgrounds, ages and nationalities usually on a gap year or career break. I hear great feedback on a daily basis from people who have learned skills for life, made new friends and seen things they would never see as a tourist. Check Raleigh out if you are looking for something challenging, educational and fun!

http://www.raleighinternational.org/our-expeditions or check out gapyear.com or yearoutgroup.org for a whole list of other organisations and gap year advice

41 R. J. Vincent July 16, 2009 at 10:14 pm

I took a couple of years off after bombing something fierce in college. I wasn’t the best student in the world. I wish I had joined the USAF like I had thought about in high school but a severe sprain (which left permanent tendon damage) put the kibosh on that idea. I got a business degree worked a couple of jobs and then went back and got a degree in graphic design. Got a job in that field for a large telecommunications company but I found that I hated working for corporate America so I now sell (not a lot yet) my designs from my website. Haven’t made much yet but it gives me the flexibility to be the sole caretaker for my mom, who’s elderly and has some health issues. I had to man up after my dad died and after some rough patches, things are pretty much okay and I handle paying her bills and managing her investment accounts with our financial adviser. Believe me, having to take care of an elderly parent makes you man up fast and big time. Great article.

42 Katanga July 20, 2009 at 11:24 am

Between High School and College, I lived at home, worked for 7 months, then took my earnings and traveled through Europe and the Middle East for five months. It was awesome, and as a result, I started college with a real sense of having accomplished something. Plus, I had much more physical confidence and a greater sense of resourcefulness, having taken care of myself, done my laundry, fed and supported myself in places where I couldn’t even speak the language. One of the best things I ever did.

43 Sohrab August 7, 2009 at 6:54 am

i hav been planning to do a gap year for quite sometime now…!! 23, jus graduated with a cushy IT job,i rili feel the need to develop more maturity before i move for further education/job ….!! heres how i plan to spend my gap year which i is supposedly from september to july next year.

the initial 6 months :-fitness training,learning german and getting better on my drumset and travelling occasionaly within india…..oops i forgot scuba diving :)
the next 3 months:- work abroad on some internship and use that time to travel and explore
the last 1-2 months:-getting back to the education/job and preparing for that

The few concerns i face are :-
1)how to fund the gap year and travelling
2)the impact of the gap year while looking for a job on coming back

ny suggestions ??

44 Debby September 27, 2009 at 7:20 am

Nice article! I could not agree more. I am the Co Founder of http://www.xtreme-gap.com. For everyone out there looking for a gap year full of adrenaline, check out our programmes

45 Mike November 4, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I’m currently a freshman in college, and I took a gap year last year. I would encourage anyone to seriously consider taking time off. I didn’t do anything exotic during my time off, yet it was such a good experience. You can learn so much just by taking a break from the standard routine and thinking for yourself. When you’re not doing something simply because it’s the norm, you realize the significance of things to a much greater degree. Getting out of the artificial environment of traditional education will give you a lot more clarity when you think about who you are, and who you want to become. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. A gap year is a great time to examine your life and form goals for the future. If you do end up taking a year off, I would encourage you to actively continue your education throughout your gap year. Also, don’t fall into the trap of complacency, continue to challenge yourself constantly. As long as your purpose in taking a gap year is not to live responsibility-free under your parents roof, I’m sure that you will find your time off to be quite the rewarding experience.

46 Lawrence February 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I’m 25, graduated, and plugging along in a pretty good job. I feel a gap year coming on.

Since the economy took a dump, very experienced people are cheap, so much so it’s has become less economical for me to advance in training. Needless to say I have been stalled. It’s all to easy to bee bop my way to work everyday, do a good job, and do the same the next day. No challenges.

Does anyone recommend any Gap Year programs involved in engineering, or any thing were you will be able to utilize and develop some technical skills?

47 Jeff April 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Many are over-educated; not in the sense of actually having an education, but rather having sat through many classes intended to be educational. There are too many getting sociology/psychology/philosophy/women’s studies degrees who, upon graduation, get a job they could have gotten out of High School, effectively destroying four years, increasingly five, in which they could have gained experience.

48 edward August 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I have just quit university and am going next fall to the UK in order to teach french. I had one more semester to do but felt like i didn’t belong anymore. I hope a gap year will help me find my way: either return to univerity learning new stuff, or do sth completly different. Good post.

49 Eric February 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I took a gap year after I graduated high school. I did briefly attend a college, but it wasn’t one that I like going to and I wanted to get some work experience. Somehow I ended up working for half of that year as a carpenter fixing colonial homes in Northeastern Massachusetts. It was a blast! I made good money, got great work experience, and got in pretty good shape with all the work I did. I also worked as a painter, waiter, junkyard laborer, and even a picker. Last fall I started classes again at a trade school, and I’ve been having a great time here too. Gap years are great way to become a more skilled person, but only if you really apply yourself.

50 JohnBoy May 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I took a gap year in the middle of my sophomore year, after my grandfather (and greatest mentor) passed away. Bounced around from job to job trying to find my fit…worked at a tire shop, a horse ranch, commercial airliner painting company, automotive body shop, construction…well, a few gap years. Started volunteering at the local FD near my hometown, and found what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. Now I’m a full-time career firefighter with a wife and a son and always look forward to working my 24 hour shift every three days. College is great, but it isn’t for everyone. After I retire I might go back and study classical or medieval history or pursue one of my other passions.

51 Duncan June 25, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Any new trends for students taking a gap year in Europe? Im looking for work there that pays decently, and allows me to be able to apply from South Africa.

Any help much appreciated :)

52 Danny October 18, 2013 at 5:24 am

Thanks for this great article and i too have to agree on benefits on taking a gap year. People choose gap year travel for numerous reasons. One of the most common is to go away and experience unfamiliar surroundings as part of one’s personal development. You may have just finished college and are unsure what to do next with your life or what you want to study at university. Having a year off without education can help you discover more about yourself – what you enjoy, what you are good at – which can help you make better future decisions.

53 PictonCastle March 27, 2014 at 8:25 am

Unless you know exactly where you are going and what you want to do with your life, a gap year is an excellent way to spend some time to make your decisions. Travel is an incredible way to spend the time – you learn more about yourself and the world around you by experiencing different cultures and ways of life than you can in a classroom. Which way to travel? There are so many options: from overland tours, to around-the-world flights, to around-the-world tall ships – which way you go has a huge impact on how much or how little you will experience .. how much you will take back with you .. how much it will guide you on your way through life. The next step is such an important one – you should open as many doors as possible!

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