Explore Our 2024 Guide to Gap Year Programs!

    5 Signs a Gap Year is Right for You

    Posted by Mimi Brown

    A gap year — time spent away from traditional classroom learning, usually between high school and college — is an option that conversations about higher education have historically ignored. However, the gap year is making a comeback.

    The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a resurgence of this trend as distance learning brought new obstacles to students’ educational journeys. Many fell behind; others struggled to connect.

    Many pandemic seniors deferred their acceptances to avoid distance learning in college classes. However, even before 2020, adults raved about their own life-changing gap year experiences: they have no regrets.

    Hundreds of gap year programs help students think outside the box.

    But these more structured programs aren’t the only ways to spend the year after you graduate. From unique internship opportunities to sustainable farm living to simply reconnecting with your hometown through a volunteer program, there’s an option for every high school graduate—all at your own pace.

    Gap years provide a range of benefits, including:

    • A break from a traditional classroom setting.
    • An opportunity to reset your routine and realign your personal goals.
    • More time to apply to college or decide your major.
    • A chance to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
    • An opportunity to make and save money for college.

    No matter your background or educational goals, a gap year may be the perfect way to set you up for success. Here are five signs that it might be time to take a break.

    You’re feeling burnt out.

    Academic burnout happens when a student’s school-related exhaustion negatively impacts their emotional, physical, and mental health. Students pressured to be high achievers are especially susceptible.

    If this sounds like you, find a global program that will break you out of your everyday routine and immerse you in a new culture.

    • Cultivate conversations with new people.
    • Immerse yourself in a new language and culture.
    • Understand your role as a global citizen.

    Gaining a new perspective may rekindle your love of learning.

    You need to unplug.

    Too much screen time can lead to a wide range of negative health effects, including mood swings and sleep disruption. If you’ve become dependent on your phone, computer, or TV screen, it may be time to step away.

    Environmental programs can help you reconnect with nature alongside a group of students who share your interests while pushing you to grow in a plethora of ways.

    These programs are designed to interweave leadership skills with practical survival skills—perfect for students with a passion for environmentalism or those who crave adventure.

    Though these enrichment opportunities range from farm living to months-long camping excursions, they are all wonderful options for those craving a more unplugged lifestyle.

    Opportunities for nature-focused gap years include:

    Get outside! Mother Nature will thank you.

    You need time to save for college.

    It’s no secret that a college education is one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. You may need to save up some cash before you go.

    If so, you can devote your gap year to learning more about—and working toward—financial independence. Use your gap year to:

    Some gap year programs offer both experience and pay! These opportunities include:

    Whether you’re exploring a new country or honing your social media skills through an internship at home, your gap year is the perfect opportunity to gain real-world experience—and make some major dough.

    You’re craving creativity.

    For those entering artistic fields, beginning to lose passion for your craft is a scary feeling. Sometimes, we need to be reminded why we love what we do.

    If you find yourself in a rut, get involved in your local community of artists.

    • Submit your work to competitions.
    • Act in a local theatrical production.
    • Teach the French horn to younger students.

    You can also spend your gap year at a program specifically designed to allow you space to grow artistically. These opportunities include:

    A gap year is also the perfect time to add to your portfolio!

    • Write a novel.
    • Make a short film.
    • Learn how to sculpt in a new medium.

    Spend your time reacquainting yourself with the craft that’s fueled your passion before—or take up a brand-new hobby!

    You want to give back.

    Between classes, sports, extracurriculars, and social gatherings, high school is an incredibly busy time. Throughout their academic career, students may begin to lose touch with their families and communities.

    If this resonates with you, you can spend your gap year giving your time to those around you.

    • Volunteer at a nursing home.
    • Organize a community garden.
    • Help your parents with their ambitious home improvement projects.

    Some programs provide opportunities to work with peers to make a difference, such as:

    • Habitat for Humanity’s long-term volunteer program, which is searching for young people to employ their diverse business skills (research, social media, etc.) to bring affordable housing to communities around the world.
    • Camphill Communities of North America, which are neurodiverse communities in which students of all ability levels can learn from each other in extended-family style living arrangements.
    • Volunteering Solutions’ many programs in India, which combine personal growth and cultural immersion with volunteer work to support surrounding communities.

    Reconnecting with your community could also mean diving into your faith, spirituality, or another aspect of your identity. Some more formal gap year programs include identity-based trips to help you grow within your community and recognize your place in it.

    Take a Gap Year!

    Just like no two students learn the same way, no two gap year programs offer identical experiences.

    Whether you choose to travel the world, give back to your community, or grow your  independence, your gap year experience has the power to enrich your life and contribute to your unique journey. If you’re taking the year as an opportunity to apply to college, new experiences may help to set you apart from other applicants!

    The decision to take a gap year is completely yours. A year of alternative learning is not only a very valid choice, but it could be right for you and your educational journey. For an in-depth list of programs, check out Teenlife’s Guide to Gap Year Programs 2024.

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    Mimi Brown

    Mimi Brown

    Mimi Brown is a writer and multimedia artist committed to telling fresh and nuanced stories. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Film and Television with a minor in Theatre Arts at Boston University. In addition to writing for TeenLife, she is a Communications Intern for the Boston Women's Workforce Council and a Campus Representative Intern for NBCUniversal. She is currently developing an original sitcom pilot.