The 4 Best Ideas for a Gap Year

So, you want to take a gap year. We wish more students would take gap years. For one reason or another, they’ve gotten a bad reputation but in reality, they can be incredibly valuable. Whatever lead you here—whether you want to re-apply to schools next year in an effort to get in somewhere great, or you just need a one-year break before enrolling in college—we support you and we want to help you create the best possible gap year.

As we’ve discussed before, there really is no downside to taking a gap year. Truly. The only downside is FOMO and the fact that you’ll be one year older than everyone else in your grade, but honestly, who cares? We advise that students prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for college as thoroughly as they can. In many cases, we see students rushing into college without coping skills. That foundational understanding of oneself and their goals is so important. Even Harvard has something to say about it. In fact, rushing into college straight after high school is distinctly American. In Europe, a gap year is expected. So, you want to take a gap year. We’ve put together some sample gap year opportunities that we think are all great options.

What we don’t advise is for students to use their gap year to just relax and veg out; AKA: take a “community service trip” or “travel” with no real purpose. The key to maximizing your gap year is to have a purpose and work hard, while also taking care of yourself and paying attention to what you gain from your time off.

Gap year options:

Get a job in your area of interest.

Make some money and enter into the working world for a year. We promise that it will be satisfying and you’ll learn a ton. And on top of it, you’ll make money. Even if that job is working at a local restaurant while working on a personal project (see below), there is a lot to be learned from working in the service industry. In fact, some of the most well-rounded students we've worked with have jobs, and as a result have a deep understanding of how important reliability, punctuality, strong work ethic, community respect, and interpersonal integrity are. Entering college with those entrenched values will always serve you well. We promise.

Finish a project with meaning.

This might mean applying to be a research assistant on a research project at a local university or college about a topic that you feel passionate about. You can also work on your own project alongside that research because you’ll have access to that institution’s resources. It also might mean committing to planning, executing, and completing that 3D printing project that you’ve been putting off because you were too busy studying for the ACTs. Perhaps you’ve started working on a cookbook. Now you have the time to recipe test and access resources like food photography classes and an externship at the Food Network with the culinary production department. So, finalize the cookbook and try to get it published. The key is: finish something. Commit, go all in, and finish that project. Then, write about it if you’re re-applying. If you’re deferring admission, you’ll be entering college with a huge accomplishment to show for your year off, as well as mental clarity around your capabilities, next steps, desired skills, and goals.

The important thing to consider about a gap year is deliverables. Gap year deliverables are different than college application deliverables because the world (without school as a barrier) is truly your oyster. And colleges know that, particularly if you’re re-applying. You want to make it clear to schools in this case that you’re taking this time seriously and adding to your specialization by taking advantage of the freedom that a gap year allows and not just wasting away.

Travel with a purpose.

Though you could get a local job, you could also combine travel and the above job option to maximize your desire to get out into the world and experience new things. For example, you could travel to Washington, DC and get a job working with a senator. Travel to Aspen and ski but also work at the Aspen Institute. Travel all over the place while working as a Camp Assistant for Backroads. The options are out there if you want to travel. But make sure it’s meaningful.

We will say this about travel: by all means, do NOT do one of those “do good” volunteer/community service programs that are planned by an external company. They love marketing themselves as perfect opportunities for students taking a gap year but in reality, they cost an arm and a leg (what’s the point? You/your parents might as well pay for college tuition at that point) and aren’t meaningful or connected to your interests. Don’t pay to build an orphanage somewhere and engage in poverty tourism.

Take college courses.

Enroll in some college courses at a university or college near you that are open enrollment while you work on expanding your understanding of a topic of interest. Gaining college credit while learning more and expanding your social and mental horizons seems pretty ideal to us, and you can do this while you work on an independent project (as mentioned above). A lot of colleges will also transfer those credits. It’s a good way to keep your brain going, work on a project, and take care of yourself and do some self-reflection before diving into the college of your choice headfirst. This is a great option for students who are re-applying and want to show that they challenged themselves academically during the year between senior year and re-applying.

All in all, we hope this helped. And if you are at a loss for direction or need more specific advice, don’t hesitate to reach out—that’s why we’re here. And don’t forget—Malia Obama took a gap year.