Why Take a Gap Year?

10 Reasons Why You Should Take a Gap Year

Updated January 2023 – Moving from one life stage to another is a mixed bag of emotions—it’s frightening, confusing, and exciting all at the same time. Transitioning from high school to college or from college to the workforce is an adventure in and of itself. But what’s become increasingly clear is that there’s no right way to do it; there’s no “right thing” to do after high school or college. It’s a time to explore and experiment, to learn more about yourself and the world around you. One post-graduation option you may have thought about or heard of is a “gap year.”

On a weekend excursion near Cuenca, Ecuador
On a weekend excursion near Cuenca, Ecuador

Four Types of Gap Years

A gap year is traditionally defined as a year-long break between high school and college or between college and entering the workforce. However, a gap year doesn’t need to actually be a year-long—some students elect to take a few months or a semester off instead. What do students do during this extended break? Some students might volunteer abroad while others spend time on a personal passion project. In fact, there are four types of gap years: immersion, volunteer, personal, and academic.

Immersion Gap Year

In an immersion gap year you spend an extended period of time surrounded by an unfamiliar culture; this usually includes things like living abroad with a host family, taking language classes, and engaging in cultural activities and practices. An immersion gap year pushes you outside of your comfort zones and teaches you first-hand about how other people in the world live.

Volunteer Gap Year

A volunteer gap year emphasizes leaving a positive impact on the places you visit and on the people you meet. This type of gap year allows you to explore areas of interest that you might not otherwise have a chance to. Volunteer opportunities range from economic development to graphic design to sustainable agriculture and more. You can learn new skills and experience diverse cultures through volunteer gap year programs, all while working alongside a local community.

Personal Gap Year

While you can collaborate with organizations related to your hobbies and interests to define a more concrete project for your time off, a personal gap year is unique to you. You could spend time launching the food blog you’ve always dreamed of, curating your Instagram to reach influencer status, or sharing the joy of your favorite hobbies by being a guitar instructor or soccer coach.

Academic Gap Year

An academic gap year typically involves exploring university life before committing to a specific university or major. These programs are typically offered by academic institutions like Oxford and RMIT University and let you enroll in interesting college-level courses, often in a new and exciting cultural setting. Academic gap year programs are a great choice if you want to continue rigorous learning even during your time off. They’re also recommended for students who want to explore their academic interests in greater depth without the pressure of choosing a major.

Walking near the coast in Uruguay
Walking near the coast in Uruguay

10 Reasons to Take a Gap Year

No matter what type of gap year you choose – immersion, volunteer, personal, academic, or some combination of them all – there are numerous benefits associated with taking the time off to explore the world. Based on over 55 years of empowering students to participate in impactful experiences abroad, we’ve rounded out our top 10 reasons for taking a gap year:

1. Experiencing Other Cultures

Taking a gap year allows you to travel the world during a time in your life where responsibilities are minimal—no mortgage, no bills, no children. This allows you to spend an extended period of time immersing yourself in another culture and unearthing the nuances of a culture you may be unfamiliar with. You’ll find yourself learning about and participating in cultural arts and events, enjoying and making traditional foods, and spending time and building friendships with locals.

2. Making a Positive Impact

Spending time abroad opens your eyes to the world around you—you’ll learn about how other people live and you’ll likely walk away with a whole new perspective of your surroundings. Cultural exchange is a two-way street, which means you can provide and receive support from people and communities all around the world.

3. Discovering Your Interests

A gap year can help you figure out if your favorite hobby or interests are truly a passion you want to pursue. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life at home can open your eyes to new opportunities and areas of study. Gap year programs with a special focus like Arts and Cultural Preservation or Environmental Sustainability provide an opportunity to test out your interests outside of the classroom. Programs that cover a wide variety of topics can also introduce you to new interests.

4. Developing Useful Skills

After completing a gap year program, you’ll walk away well-equipped with coveted workplace skills and life experience! You will find yourself a more flexible and adaptable individual and may pick up some hard skills like community development, graphic design, or writing, depending on your program or what you do during your gap year. These skills can prepare you for college, internships, and for entering the workforce.

5. Learning a New Language

Whether you want to brush up on your Spanish or are interested in learning a completely new language, there’s no better way to do so than surrounding yourself with native speakers. Gap year programs often include intensive language classes and provide plenty of opportunities to practice your language skills.

6. Building Lifelong Friendships

The people you embark on a gap year program with, the locals you meet, and the host family you stay with often end up becoming your lifelong friends. The special memories you create with each other and the adventures you experience together help create a one-of-a-kind bond.

7. Preparing Yourself for College

While some people are hesitant to pursue a gap year for fear of starting college “late”, a gap year is actually a great way to prepare yourself for college. In fact, studies have shown that students who take a gap year often have higher GPAs and are more involved in campus life than students who don’t take a gap year.

8. Boosting Your Professional ResumE

Employers value individuals who are culturally-aware and can adapt to new environments and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. Participating in a gap year program can help you develop all these skills even before you step foot into your first college class. Including your gap year program on your resumé demonstrates unique skills and experiences to your employer that other jobs can’t provide.

9. Collaborating Across Cultures

Whatever project you’re working on during your gap year, collaborating with people from different cultures can stimulate unique perspectives and produce stellar results. Collaborating across cultures can also transform the way you think and develop your critical and creative thinking skills.

10. Making Unforgettable Memories

From exploring the Andean highlands to bonding with your host family, your gap year will be a year to remember! Wherever you go for your gap year or whatever program you enroll in, you’re sure to make a lifetime of culturally-rich memories.

AMIGOS staff and partner agency contacts
AMIGOS staff and partner agency contacts

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Can Take a Gap Year?

There are no rules to who can take a gap year. While most programs are targeted towards students entering or completing college, people take gap years at all stages of their life.

When Should I Take a Gap Year?

Most people take a gap year between high school and college or between college graduation and entering the workforce. However, gap years are for anyone who is in between pivotal life stages—academic-related or not. Remember that a gap year doesn’t actually have to be a year-long; you can take a gap year that is a month-long, a semester-long, or even just a few weeks.

Where Should I Go for a Gap Year?

There are hundreds of programs all over the world for people interested in taking a gap year. For example, at Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS), we specialize in gap year programs in the Americas. We encourage you to start by researching different countries and cultures that you’re interested in. A gap year should be tailored to your interests and whatever or wherever you want to explore.

How Can I Pay for a Gap Year?

Saving up for college or life after college can be overwhelming and a gap year may not seem feasible in the middle of it all. However, there are organizations dedicated to providing funding to students of all backgrounds and gap year programs often offer financial assistance.

Gap Year Misconceptions

There are a lot of misconceptions about gap years—like that you’ll be homesick all the time or that you have to travel across oceans to participate in a fun program. Here are three common misconceptions we want to debunk:

  1. Gap year programs are only for wealthy individuals. As we’ve mentioned, there are numerous organizations that provide funding for students interested in gap year programs. There are also less costly options and programs that offer financial assistance to qualifying students.
  2. A gap year looks bad on your college and job applications. The skills and experiences you develop during your gap year add to your college and job applications. You’ll walk away from your experience with countless stories for your personal essays and to tell in interviews. You’ll also learn hard and soft skills that will help you succeed in school and in the workforce.
  3. A gap year is like an extended vacation. A huge part of all gap year programs – whether you’re in an immersive, volunteer, personal, or academic gap year – is learning. While academic-focused gap year programs are more academically rigorous, a core aspect of every program is to provide students with the opportunity to learn about themselves and to learn more about the world around them. You’ll often be working hard on a project or towards a goal during your gap year to aid in your personal and professional growth—not lounging on the beach all day.

Is a Gap Year Right for You?

If you’re still trying to figure out if a gap year is the right choice for you, start with research. Research locations, programs, costs, etc. Equip yourself with the information you need to make an informed decision about where you want to spend your time and what you want to learn.

Think about why you want to take a gap year and what you want to achieve during your time off. What do you want to know a year from now that you don’t know now? If you’re curious about AMIGOS Gap Year Programs, watch one of our alumni testimonials—where program alumni share their experiences living abroad and having unforgettable experiences in Latin America.

Ready to get out of your element?