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  • Writer's pictureAllison Styffe

To gap or not to gap...and how...and where? Those are the questions!

Nothing has boosted the popularity of taking a gap year quite like Covid-19. According to BridgeU, 20% of students took a gap year for 2020-2021, compared to just 3% in 2018. Perhaps more surprising than the enormous increase in those numbers is the fact that most gap-year students continue to plan to travel abroad.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is the term most often used to describe intentional time taken in between graduating high school and going to college in order to gain professional or academic skills and clarify goals in those areas. During this time (usually a year) students may engage in one of the following or, more commonly, a combination of two or more:

  • academic coursework

  • language studies

  • volunteer work

  • travel

  • an internship

  • etc.

Is a gap year the right choice for me?

Gap years are sometimes urged as a way for students to become independent and learn a great deal of responsibility prior to engaging in university life. Here are just a few questions that can prompt you to consider whether a gap year might be the right choice for you:

Do you know why you want to go to college and what you want to major in? If not, a gap year can help you clarify and become more confident in what you want to do after college, and therefore help you establish not only your purpose for getting a college degree but also help you clarify what kind of degree you want to pursue. For example, getting an internship in an area of interest can help you determine whether that is the industry and type of work you want to pursue.

Are there skills important to you that could be learned more effectively outside of a college setting? College can play a significant, sometimes essential role, in helping develop the knowledge and skills you'll use in a future career. However, there are certain settings that do so in a unique, hands-on way. Language studies is a great example of this — if you're hoping to become fluent in German, the best way to accomplish that goal is to spend time in Germany. Or, let's say you need to learn how to sew or draw before pursuing a fashion design program, it might make more sense to spend a year investing heavily in those skillsets in order to make the most of your time in college.

Does your future college (and major) offer study abroad programs you're interested in? For some students, experiencing other cultures and countries is a top priority. After all, there are numerous benefits to spending time abroad, both personally and professionally. If your future college or major won't allow you to study abroad in the places or for the length of time you're hoping to, a gap year might be the best way to gain that significant international experience you're looking for.

How can I choose the best gap-year experience for me?

Let us start by saying we don't believe there is a "best" experience or program for each person — it all depends on what you do with the gap-year itself, how invested you are in it, how willing you are to get out of your comfort zone, etc. So, with that, we encourage you to think intentionally as you consider not what will be best, but what will bring out your best. Research shows that students who do so, who take an intentional gap year, one with clear goals and a determined purpose, often perform better in college and complete their degree at higher and faster rates than many of their non-gap-year peers. Here are some initial steps to take as you consider what kind of gap year you'd like to take and how to best use that time before attending college:

  1. Make a list of your goals (academic, personal, and professional) Doing so will hopefully make it quite clear that a gap-year experience is the best use of your time and finances

  2. Challenge yourself with the location Research places that will take you outside of your comfort zone; consider locations that use another language, hold different values, etc.

  3. Tackle the logistics Look into options that align with your goals, interests, budget; attending a gap-year fair or connecting with the Gap Year Association are both great places to start

Some of you might be able to piece together your own productive gap-year experience. Perhaps you will find a job related to the occupation you're interested in and work full time to save up for college while developing knowledge and skills that will prepare you for your future career. Or maybe you have a relative in a foreign country that you can live with while taking local language courses and volunteering at their community center. Those would be what we would classify as relatively "unstructured" in that you are the one creating the structure.

While this can work for some students and families, there are a plethora of gap-year programs that can provide a tremendous amount of structure and support. Some good examples of structured programs include:


Want some personalized guidance as you consider a gap year? Click here to schedule a meeting with your career & college counselor today. Allison Styffe works with BEC students in Central, Southern, and Eastern Oregon. Jennifer Tracewell works with all BWA students as well as BEC students in Portland, Salem, and Eugene.

This blog post was co-written by Suzanne Moore, BEC Advisor.
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