Skip to content Skip to Live Chat
Close Nav

Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

May 21, 2020

Online University Experience

What is a gap year? Everything you need to know.

Hand holding small globe - gap year

Tests. Papers. Research. Studying. Textbooks. Projects. Day after day, month after month. For 12 straight years, you’ve been going to school. Then, senior year ends! Finally, you’re finished. You’ve earned your diploma. And you might be thinking that you’re ready to take a break. Applying to college and figuring out your plans for a future can feel like a full-time job. And you may be wondering if it’s time to just relax and stop focusing on school for a little while.

More and more U.S. students are finding that they want to take some time after graduation for themselves, before heading off to college. This is called a gap year.

While a gap year may sound interesting and exciting, it may not be the best option for every student. It’s important to research and understand what a gap year is, and weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding if it’s the right option for you and your future. Many students worry that taking a gap year will inhibit their education, and it actually can delay and cause issues for your educational future. But you may be able to strike a balance. As online schools gain in popularity, students are able to continue their education while following other unique paths. WGU helps students who want to take a gap year be able to follow that path, while still being able to pursue their education. 

What is a gap year?

A gap year is the term for when students take time off between high school and college. Though it’s typically called a gap year, some students take more or less time off in between high school and college. Some students just take a semester before starting college, while others take a couple of years before starting their higher education journey. A gap year can be planned and on purpose—students may want to travel or do internships—or it can be unplanned, if a student has an unexpected health issue or family emergency they need to deal with that makes them unable to attend college right away. Some gap years will involve religious, volunteer, or military service while others involve a job or internship. Some students will spend time traveling to learn a language or work in a foreign country, while other students may opt to stay at home and work to earn money during their gap year. 

Students who take a gap year are not usually considered non-traditional students. Non-traditional students are usually over age 24, and may work full-time while also attending school. Gap year students would just take a few months or a year or two between their high school and college education, and wouldn’t be pushed into a non-traditional student bracket. 


Now that you understand what a gap year is, it’s important to really decide if taking a gap year is a good idea for you. There are many benefits of a gap year for students, including:

  • Some colleges encourage it. For example, Harvard encourages students to take a gap year to experience new things and boost their confidence before attending college. Some schools find that students who take a gap year can enrich their campus and will have an enhanced college experience.
  • More accepted by colleges now. More colleges than ever are accepting of gap years. However, most colleges do encourage students to apply for college right after high school and then defer their enrollment rather than waiting for after their gap year to apply. 
  • Resume booster. A gap year can help boost your resume by showing you’ve had important volunteer or leadership experiences. This can be a great element on your resume as you go back to college and apply for jobs in the future. And some gap year programs can connect you to meaningful employment down the road.
  • Increase your confidence. A gap year can be a great way to increase your confidence as a student. You can spend time for yourself and really focus on yourself, which can be beneficial before you enter the world of higher education.
  • New opportunity to learn. Gap year programs offer students new and exciting ways to learn about the world. Immersive experiences are important and helpful for students who really want to try new things and learn while they do it.


While there are many pros to a gap year, some people may wonder if taking a gap year is a bad idea? For some students, a gap year can have negative consequences.

  • Impact college admission. How does a gap year affect college admission? For students who wait to apply until after their gap year, admission standards may change or committees may look less favorably on students who have taken time off. Students taking a gap year may also have difficulty applying for college and meeting deadlines while in a foreign country. 
  • It can be expensive. Gap year programs can be extremely expensive, impacting your ability to pay for college and other things down the line. While a gap year can be a fun and interesting opportunity, students need to weigh if a gap year or college is better worth their financial investment.
  • Later start to college. Some students find that their gap year has delayed their college plans, which in turn will delay their timeline to get a job. For some students, this break or delay in college can hinder them. And some students may never go back if they take time off after high school. 
  • Requires careful planning. A gap year requires careful planning in order for students to make the best use of their time and money. And it takes careful planning to arrange coming back to college as well. For some students, all this extra work may simply not be worth it to have a gap year experience.


Changing Teaching Methods

History of the gap year.

In Europe, the idea of a “gap year” has been around since the seventeenth century. The “Grand Tour” where young adults would spend a year visiting countries all around Europe, was a vital part of education. Often after young adults finished more formal schooling or learning they would embark on a Grand Tour to learn from the world around them.

It was in the 1960’s that gap years really started to become popular, and into the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, more students, particularly in Europe, began to embark on gap years. Wealthy or royal students would often spend their gap year doing service, traveling, and preparing for their college education.

In the United States, gap years haven’t had the same popularity as they have in Europe, but students still find the idea exciting and interesting.

Gap year statistics.

If you’re one of the students considering taking time off before going to college, you may wonder how many students take a gap year in the United States. Research shows that only 3% of students take a gap year, around 30,000–40,000 per semester. But in 2017, the number of students who took a gap year had risen 22% from the previous year. While not many students take a gap year, the number is rising.

Other important statistics about gap years include:

of students who intended to go to college after their gap year did go.

of students said they thought they took their schoolwork more seriously after a gap year.

of students said their gap year helped them decide what to study.

of students fund their gap year themselves.

of parents help fund their child’s gap year.

Gap year programs.

What is a gap year program? If you’re thinking about a gap year, you may be asking yourself “What should I do on my gap year?” There are many options and many official programs that can help you enjoy your time between high school and college. 

The first thing to do is to decide which gap year ideas are most interesting to you. Are you hoping to work, do community service, learn a foreign language, or travel? Figuring out where you want to be, what you want to gain, and what you want to spend your time doing will help you determine what kind of gap year ideas, programs, or opportunities you should pursue. You’ll also need to find out how much an organization will cost based on what you’re interested in. Some gap year ideas involve getting paid, while others will require you to pay costs in order to attend the program.

Gap year programs often aren’t an entire year long, so it’s important to carefully plan out your year and decide when to do different activities as part of your gap year. You can volunteer for a few weeks or months, travel for a while, and do some work all during your gap year.

Decide what kind of gap you want by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Is there somewhere I’ve always wanted to go?

  2. Is there a language I’ve always wanted to learn?

  3. Is there a skill I’d really like to develop?

  4. Are there people I’d like to help?

  5. What is my budget?

  6. Do I need to find a way to make money during my gap year?

These questions can help you narrow down your options when it comes to choosing what to during your school gap.

There are many options to choose from when deciding what kind of gap program you should do. 

Volunteer teacher reading to a class of preschool kids


Volunteering is a popular option for many students interested in a gap year. Students can travel around the world or anywhere in the United States to volunteer for their gap year. Students can work with animals, in orphanages, building homes or schools, offering health aid, and strengthening communities as part of their volunteer gap year. There are many recognized volunteer gap year programs that could be the perfect fit for your needs. Some of the top gap year volunteer programs include:

  • ImpacTrip will allow you to have a global experience and help with all kinds of service efforts, from marine conservation to food rescue. These volunteer gap year programs have a cost attached, and you can expect to pay a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars for this volunteer program.

  • SCA and AmeriCorps have partnered to help high school graduates get volunteer options for their gap year. AmeriCorps does all kinds of volunteer service around the United States in many capacities, from office work at a nonprofit to manual work strengthening communities. There is usually no fee associated with signing up for this program, and students may actually be able to get education credits as part of their volunteer work.

  • United Planet allows students to go on a global adventure and volunteer in nonprofit organizations there. They are able to help impact communities, save wildlife, and make changes during their gap year. Students will have to pay a few thousand dollars for travel and accommodations during this program. 

There are hundreds of other volunteer gap year programs you can research and pursue as you make plans for your gap year.



Teaching in a different state or a foreign country is a popular option for many gap year students. They are able to find English teaching opportunities and spend time abroad while working. Some popular gap year teaching opportunities include:

  • English First helps students get prepared to teaching English in a global setting and then provides unique opportunities for working and living as part of your gap year. Students have the opportunity to live in a unique country and have cultural experiences while teaching English. Students have to pay their travel and living expenses, but some expenses are covered as part of their teaching salary.

  • ILP offers students a global English teaching experience for their gap. They are able to take weekend trips and go on great adventures while immersing themselves in culture. Housing and food costs are covered, but students will need to arrange their travel and have spending money for this gap year program.

There are many other teaching programs you can research to get an opportunity to travel while doing good and helping others during your gap year. 

Man on city street holding laptop


Some students find they want to focus on career opportunities during their gap year. They are able to afford traveling more easily when they have a job that they can depend on as part of their gap year. Students are able to immerse in a new culture or city while also focusing on their career or earning money, and spend their money experiencing the places around them. Some work options include:

  • Becoming an au pair is one of the most popular gap year working options for students. Au pairs are caregivers for children or elderly people who often live in their host family’s home and offer their services in exchange for food and board, and sometimes an additional salary. Au pairs may travel around the country or the world to live and immerse themselves in a new place. Au pairs often don’t have to pay for any of their travel or accommodations, and are given pay in exchange for their work so they can explore and have adventures in their new home.

  • Many gap year students find working at hostels gives them needed funds to explore during their gap year. Students are able to get a job cleaning and scheduling for hostels, and often get to stay there for free and get a small additional salary. This work exchange can be a great option for students who need to earn during their gap year.

  • Many students find getting a job on a cruise ship is a great option for their gap year. Students are able to travel the world on the cruise ship while working to earn money and get their accommodations while they travel. Students may have to pay to travel to the port where their cruise ship will be leaving from, but will be paid for their work.

  • Some students may find ways to become tour guides during their gap year. Students can research the area where they want to live and see what kinds of tours or museum options are available. Students can then make money while spending their gap year in a new place.

  • Disney offers many work options for students hoping to spend their gap year at one of the happiest amusement parks on earth! Students can travel to any of the Disney resorts to work, and get paid for having a magical experience. Students are often able to get accommodations to help with their living and are paid an additional salary.

  • Any job. If you want to take a gap year and try something new, look for any kind of job in the place you want to live! You can wait tables, work in a coffee shop, or even work in an office in a new place to get the gap year experience you’ve been wanting, while getting paid.

Businesswoman attending listening to a client who is talking at office.


Internships are another popular way for students to experience a gap year while having a career focus. Internships can help students beef up their resume while they are enjoying their gap year, preparing them for a future career. 

  • Learn about internship opportunities around the United States and the world. The Intern Group helps students pursue an internship in a field that is interesting to them, allowing them to start networking before they’ve finished college. Students are able to get paid for their time and boost their resume while experiencing a new place.

  • Stint Ireland allows students to live and work in Ireland while getting paid for their internship. This experience allows students to have an interesting travel adventure, while making important professional relationships. 

  • Choose a company you are interested in. If you’re considering a field, research internship opportunities in that field! An internship could take you to a big city or a new country, and you can gain valuable experience learning about an industry and deciding if that field is a good fit for you.

Wing of airplane - travel nurse


Many students find they want to travel and relax as part of their gap year. The right program can help students have a study abroad travel experience that is relaxing and fun, while also being educational and meaningful. Students can get language study experience, face-to-face interactions with different cultures, enjoy new foods, and more when they travel for their gap.

  • Carpe Diem Education helps students travel the world and have amazing experiences in their gap year. Students can learn, immerse themselves in new cultures, and have fun as part of these programs. Students will have to pay tuition to attend these gap year programs, which include food and accommodations. This program offers college credit and classes which may transfer to some universities.

  • CIEE allows students from all over the world to travel and experience new cultures as part of their gap year. Students can have language immersion, service opportunities, and travel experiences as a part of these gap year programs. Students should expect to pay several thousand dollars for travel and accommodations as part of this gap year program.

  • Plan a trip. There may not be a specific gap year program set up for what you’re hoping to do. You can work with travel agencies and tour companies to get an exciting and fun travel experience as part of your gap year.

Get college credit.

Can I get college credit while doing my gap year? The answer is yes! Some students can get college credit for study abroad gap year programs, but that may not transfer directly to the college of your choice. While these can be a good option, there may be a better way for you to start working on your education while getting the gap year adventures you want. Consider an online college like Western Governors University

WGU allows you to do your coursework anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to log into class at a certain time or do assignments by a specific deadline. You are in complete control of your education. So you can work on your classes from a beach in Mexico or after touring a museum in Italy. If you enroll at WGU, you can get all the amazing experiences of a gap year while furthering your education, instead of putting it entirely on hold. This is a great option for many students looking to have a fun time while still pursuing higher education. 

What can I do in a gap year if I'm at home?

Some students need to take a gap year but aren’t planning to do extensive traveling or volunteer work abroad as part of their gap year. Students can still have a fun and exciting gap year while they are at home! There are many ways that students can enjoy a gap year without traveling somewhere exotic.

  • Pursue your passions. If you love writing, drawing, or music, a gap year is a great time to focus on those skills. Write that novel you’ve always been dreaming of or learn a new hobby that has always interested you.

  • Find a great job or internship. Your hometown or nearby city may have amazing job or internship opportunities that can be a great choice for your gap year. Get involved with a company that’s exciting or find an internship to help you earn money during your break. This networking can be extremely beneficial later down the line.

  • Volunteer. You don’t have to go somewhere new to spend time volunteering! Look for opportunities at a local food bank or animal shelter and do some great volunteer work as part of your gap year. This will look great on a resume, and will help you find yourself as you take a break after school. Giving back is always a good idea.

  • Get college credit. Students can still have a gap year experience at home while also pursuing college credit. WGU allows students to work, volunteer, and pursue their passions while also pursuing a degree. Students can do their coursework anytime, anywhere, however works best for them. WGU gives students the flexibility of a gap year while still allowing them to make progress toward a degree.

Is a gap year really worth it?

Is a gap year really worth it? It really boils down to you and how you want to spend your time and money. Some students may find that a gap year is very important to them, full of experiences they want to have. For these students, it may be worth it to consider taking a gap year while attending college at the same time. WGU allows these students the option to pursue their education while still getting the gap year they’ve been looking for. Fully online degree programs mean you can do your coursework anywhere in the world, in whatever way works for you.

Other students may find that a gap year simply isn’t feasible for them to achieve their higher education goals, and that’s OK too. WGU gives students flexibility to travel and have enjoyable vacations while working and attending school full-time. Students can work through their degree program faster with competency-based education, and may have more time and money available to travel later in life if a gap year after high school isn’t for them.

Think carefully and consider your options before deciding if a gap year is for you. For many students, WGU can allow you to have the best of both worlds.

Share this:

One online university. Four colleges. Flexible degrees.

Our focus on your success starts with our focus on four high-demand fields: K–12 teaching and education, nursing and healthcare, information technology, and business. Every degree program at WGU is tied to a high-growth, highly rewarding career path. Which college fits you?

Want to see all the degrees WGU has to offer? View all degrees