Gap year

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A gap year, also known as a sabbatical year, is typically a year-long break before or after college/university during which students engage in various educational and developmental activities, such as travel or some type of regular work. [1] Gap years usually occur between high school and college, or after graduating from college and before entry into graduate school. Students undertaking a gap year might, for example, take advanced courses in mathematics or language studies, learn a trade, study art, volunteer, travel, take internships, play sports, or participate in cultural exchanges. [2] [3] Studies indicate that students who take a gap year perform better academically than those who do not, however, many parents worry that their children will defer continuation of their education. [4] [5] Many student have even decided against going to university after taking time to reflect during their gap year.



A gap year is described as “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”. [6] During this time, students engage in various educational, work related, and developmental activities [7] such as internships, work experience, travel, volunteering, participation in cultural exchanges, studying art or learning a trade, etc. Though gap years come in many different formats – from structured programs to personal exploration – the purpose of taking a gap year is usually founded on the common needs of young people to: gain deeper self-understanding, expand their world-view, and recharge between traditional academic experiences. On the other hand, rejected college or employment applications have also caused high school students to pursue a gap year. [8]

Taking a gap year can have significant benefits to one’s academic path as well as career trajectory. This time taken off can help college students from “burning out” or turning to indulgent behaviors as a result of unhealthy stress. During this year, students can explore different interests while gaining experience and maturity before beginning college. It gives young people the time to make an informed choice about the path they wish to pursue, as well the experience of real world situations to match to academic theories. Gap years and similar sabbatical experiences have long been popular around the world (as can be evidenced below per country) but are just beginning to become more popular in the United States. Studies conducted by American colleges are showing that the average GPA for students who have taken a gap year is significantly higher than the average GPA for students who have not [9] . Amidst much evidence supporting the positive outcomes of taking a gap year, the room for improvement remains – as the gap year experience is largely geared primarily toward students with “means.” Some still argue an opposing view, as parents are among the concerned that taking a year off from school has the potential to break a student’s focus and derail their path rather than recharge it. [10] Ultimately though, the idea of a gap year is growing as it helps students gain the independence necessary for a smoother transition into adulthood. [11]


Gap years first became common in the 1960s where the young, baby boom generation wanted to get away from the severity of war from their parents generation.[ clarification needed ] [12] At first, the primary purpose of the gap year was for countries to exchange cultural ideals in the hope of preventing future wars.[ dubious ] [13] The outcome of this exchange was the growth of the gap year industry.

The introduction of gap year companies in the 1960s and 1970s started the gap year industry. With the long-term success of organizations like Topdeck, Flight Centre, and Raleigh International, the gap year industry developed rapidly. In 1967, Nicholas Maclean-Bristol created Project Trust, which sent three volunteers to Ethiopia from the UK. [14] The goal of this was to help the nation develop, but also build the volunteers' own skills. In 1972, Gap Activity Projects (now Lattitude Global Volunteering) was started to send UK youth around the world on Gap Year experiences. Their participants, still called "Gappers", went a long way to branding the year between high school and university as a Gap Year. In 1973, Graham Turner innovated the gap year industry by purchasing a bus and selling tickets to Kathmandu. This led to Turner creating Topdeck and Flight Centre, which are successful gap year companies today. [13] In 1978, the Prince of Wales and Colonel John Blashford-Snell began Operation Drake which what is now known as Raleigh International, an expedition voyage around the world following Sir Francis Drake's route.

In 1969, the first gap year organization was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts. The organization called Dynamy was founded with the intentions of teaching young people self confidence and the role they play in a large community. [15] In the 1980s, the gap year idea was promoted by Cornelius H. Bull in the United States to allow students more time for individual growth. Cornelius saw that students needed a bridge between high school and college that would help develop more hands-on skills. [16] To do this, he founded the Center for Interim Programs in 1980 which had goals of increasing self-awareness and developing new cultural perspectives. [17]

By country

Australia and New Zealand

Australians and New Zealanders have a tradition of travelling overseas independently at a young age. [18] In New Zealand this is known as "doing an OE" (Overseas experience). Sometimes this is limited to one year, but at times Australians and New Zealanders will remain overseas for longer, many working short-term in service industry jobs to fund their travels. Europe and Asia are popular destinations for gap year travels. [19] In Australia, exchange programs and youth benefits provide many opportunities for young people to gain experience through travel in a gap year. The Gap Year Association provided approximately four million dollars in 2016 in the form of scholarships and need based grants. [20]


The Time Credit system in Belgium entitles employees to one year per lifetime of absence from their job, in order to prevent burn-out and to provide an opportunity to pursue other important things in life. [21]


In Denmark during the late 1990s the percentage of students continuing their education directly after high school was down to 25%. Along with this drop there was a rise in the number of students enrolling and graduating within ten years of finishing high school. [22] Data also shows that women in Denmark take more gap years than men. [23] In 2018, a record low of 15% of that year's high school graduates had chosen to continue their education directly after graduation. [24]

Denmark has sought to limit the number of students who take a year out, penalizing students who delay their education to travel abroad or work full-time. [25] In 2006, it was announced that fewer students than before had taken a year out. [26] In April 2009, the Danish government proposed a new law which gives a bonus to students who refrain from a year out. [27]


In Ghana, most senior high school leavers have a year out from August to the August of the following year, although this is not mandatory.[ citation needed ][ further explanation needed ]


In Israel, it is customary for young adults who have completed their mandatory military service to engage in backpacker tourism abroad in groups before starting university or full-time work (he:טיול אחרי צבא, "post-army trip").

Israel has also become a popular gap year travel destination for thousands of young Jewish adults from abroad each year. [28] There are over 10,000 participants in the Masa Israel Journey gap year annually.[ further explanation needed ] [29]


The employment practice known as simultaneous recruiting of new graduates matches students with jobs before graduation, meaning sabbaticals are highly unusual in Japan.[ citation needed ][ further explanation needed ]

While unusual, gap years in Japan are not completely unheard of. Some students will take a gap year or two to readjust or reassess their career path or school of choice if not accepted into the school they had originally hoped for.


While waiting for their JAMB result after secondary school, Nigerian youths usually learn a trade or skill, or enroll for another academic program (remedial, pre-degree, JUPEB, A-levels, IJMB, etc.) to increase their chances of getting into a university. [30]


It is quite normal in Norway to have a gap year between high school and further education or job. Some join the military as part of the compulsory military service, some takes part in Folkehøyskole (Folk high school) and some are combining work (typically work that requires no formal education, such as cashiers and waiters) with travelling or volunteer work. It is also fairly common to study language in another country, for instance Spain, France or Australia.

Romania and Bulgaria

Similar to the way that some students travel during a gap year, many Romanian and Bulgarian students instead study abroad and in recent years the number of students who choose to do this has been growing. [31]

South Africa

In the Republic of South Africa, taking a year off is common for those in more affluent classes.[ citation needed ] School leavers often travel abroad to gain life experience.[ citation needed ] It is not uncommon for gap year students to travel to Cape Town for life experience.[ citation needed ] Common volunteer opportunities include working in animal welfare or tree planting.[ citation needed ]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the practice of taking a gap year – seen as an interim period of 7 or 8 months between completing secondary education and starting university – began to develop in the 1970s. The period was seen as a time for gaining life experience through travel or volunteering. Universities appear to welcome post-gap-year applicants on the same basis as those going straight to university from previous education.[ citation needed ]

The number of students aged 18 opting to defer their university place in order to take a gap year reached a peak of 21,020 in 2008. [32] This figure crashed to 7,320 in 2011 [32] – a year before the introduction of greatly increased tuition fees by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. Deferrals in 2016 [32] were near their peak again although Year Out Group states its members now take more bookings from students outside the UK. Shorter gap style experiences (volunteering, expeditions, courses and work placements) are gaining in popularity, as they can be taken without the need to take a full year out of study or work.[ citation needed ]

United States

In the United States, the practice of taking a "year off" remains the exception, but is gaining in popularity. [33] Parents are starting to encourage their high school graduates to take a gap year to focus on service opportunities. [34] Schools are also beginning to support gap years more; most notably Harvard University and Princeton University, are now encouraging students to take time off, and some have even built gap year-like programs into the curriculum, [35] and many high schools now have counsellors specifically for students interested in taking a gap year. [36]

Taking a year off has recently become slightly more common for Americans, a main reason being that students often feel burnt out with schooling and want to take time to make sure their lives are headed in a direction that suits them. [37] Some 40,000 Americans participated in 2013 in sabbatical programs, an increase of almost 20% since 2006, according to statistics compiled by the American Gap Association. Universities such as Georgetown University, New York University, [38] Amherst College, Princeton University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, [39] Davidson College, [40] Yeshiva University, [41] and Reed College have formal policies allowing students to defer admission. [37]

Tufts University offers a program called 1+4 which allows students from lower income families to volunteer abroad or within America for a period of one year before starting their bachelor's degree. [42] Naropa University [43] in Boulder, Colorado, is the first U.S. university to fully integrate the gap year into a four-year undergraduate degree, which makes financial aid directly available to any student considering a gap year. [44]

Some formal gap year programs can cost as much as $30,000, but cheaper alternatives are becoming more widely available; some reduce costs by offering room and board. [45] [46] For example, the National Civilian Community Corps, an AmeriCorps program, offers 18- to 24-year-olds (no age limit for Team Leaders) an all-expense-paid gap year (room & board, meals, transportation, etc.) in exchange for a 10-month commitment to National and Community service. [47] AmeriCorps NCCC members travel the country in diverse teams and perform a variety of tasks such as rebuilding trails in national parks, responding to natural disasters or working as mentors for disadvantaged youths. [47] As with most AmeriCorps programs, service members receive an education award of approximately $6,000 upon completion of their service that can be used toward qualified educational expenses or student loans. [48] The zero cost to the member model AmeriCorps offers makes it an attractive alternative to costly gap year programs while leveraging taxpayer dollars to strengthen American communities.

Additionally, new federal partnerships such as FEMA Corps offer traditional gap year seekers an immersive professional and team building experience that can serve as a launch pad for their careers. [49] Some government programs designed to help students afford college prohibit students from taking a gap year. For example, the Tennessee Promise program requires that students must "Attend full-time and continuously at an eligible postsecondary institution as defined in T.C.A. § 49-4-708 in the fall term immediately following graduation or attainment of a GED or HiSET diploma; except that a student enrolling in a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) may enroll in the summer prior to the fall term." [50] Malia Obama, daughter of former President Barack Obama, took a gap year before attending Harvard University in the fall of 2017. [51] Universities such as Harvard and Princeton are encouraging students to take a Gap year. This time that is taken off can be beneficial so students don't "burn out" or partake in indulging behaviors that promote unhealthy stress. [52]


In Venezuela, gap year students have gone to leadership courses in Israel, postgraduate years at elite US schools, tutorial colleges in the UK, work internships, language centers across the globe, and exploration gap years in remote countries. Today, the practice has become more widespread and Venezuela is a major economic contributor to the gap year. They are also major contributors in the college studies and English studies industries, especially in countries such as Ireland. [53]


In Yemen, a gap year is mandatory between secondary school (high school) and university. Unless one attends a private university, they must wait one year after secondary school before applying to university. Until the nineties it was mandatory for male graduates to go to the army for one year, and to teach in a school or work in a hospital for female graduates (and for men who cannot join the army for health reasons). [54]

See also

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