Graduating Soon? Take a Gap Year Before College

by Published

Why take a gap year?

You’re just a few months away from the big graduation day a.k.a. FREEDOM! Instead of studying your English lit notes in class, you’re probably texting your best friend about upcoming summer escapades or worrying if that tenth college application was enough to secure your future.

Maybe you’ve recently considered taking a gap year before college; maybe those college apps have been the only thing on your radar. Either way, it’s not too late to explore the options for your first year outside of high school and take a look at different gap year ideas. Gap year programs after high school have become increasingly popular, and gap year travel is all the more appealing. What better way to grow and learn about yourself and the world around you before heading back into classrooms and textbooks?

Soon-to-be graduates: here’s some last minute gap year advice to help make the pressing question, “Should I take a gap year?” an easy one to answer (Hint: the answer rhymes with guess).

Graduating Soon? Take a Gap Year Before College


Seriously. Take it from every person who has ever taken time “off” to travel, volunteer, intern, or learn a language abroad – it’s worth it.

The reason is because it’s not actually time “off” at all. You aren’t sitting on the couch playing video games; you are forced to be more active in your life than maybe you’ve ever been before! (It should probably be called “Learn-to-Live-Your-Life Year,” instead of gap year, for appropriate context). Being out of your comfort zone and away from your support system (and endless Wi-Fi) during a gap year before college prepares you even more for your studies and career ahead. Through a gap year of travel, you’ll become more aware of different lifestyles and cultures around you, more in tune with your skills/goals/potential, and more self-assured in making decisions and taking action.

Imagine walking into your first day of university confident in your selected poli-sci major and teeming with ideas to bring to the environmental club on campus (thanks in large part to your gap year in France). Not to mention you’re perfectly capable of out-testing any third year French major. You’ll be worldly and well prepared — sounds just about perfect.

Plane flying over mountains and turqoise lake
Who says your first year after high school can’t involve international jetsetting?

How to take a gap year?

It’s not as hard as it may seem! In fact, no matter if you have already applied to your favorite universities or not, you can still opt for a gap year. Depending on your current sitch, here’s how to take a gap year:

Already accepted into a university? – Defer.

Personal development isn’t the only perk that comes along with taking a gap year, and more and more schools are recognizing that students actually perform better upon returning from a gap year program after high school. Look up your school’s deferment policy; many allow deferment for one year with only a simple form to fill out. Make sure you do all the steps required to ensure your spot for next year!

Even if you have to apply again when you return, they typically won’t make you pay the application fee or send in your transcripts/reference letters again (be sure to confirm this with admissions). If scholarships are at stake, ask about the appeals process with financial services. There’s always a way!

teenage boy hugging parents
Getting your parents on-board is a crucial step to taking a gap year.

Still looking at colleges? – Check out ones that offer gap year programs after high school.

Just as many schools are looking at gap years as a benefit to their students, some colleges are going the extra step by offering school sponsored gap year opportunities, making it that much easier to have your college experience and eat your gap year cake, too. Applying to a specific university just because they offer a funded gap year program might not be the way to go, but if you can find a college that fits your interests, plus offers a gap year program, it’s a win-win.

Not applying to college just yet? – Seriously consider the gap year track.

Translation: there is absolutely no fault in being hesitant about the whole college admissions process, especially when you can’t even keep your eyes open after writing your senior thesis. Perfect time to consider a gap year before college to refresh your mind instead!

An extra bonus of taking a gap year is that you don’t necessarily need to apply before school is out. Spend your summer winding down, saving money, and searching for the perfect gap year program to join. When the next application period rolls around, you’ll be even more prepared to win over admissions counselors with your travel experience.

young man sitting in daisy field
It’s important to contemplate your options to zero in on the best fit.

How to choose a gap year program?

The world is literally your oyster when it comes to taking a gap year before college. If you aren’t ready to let go of your Westernized creature comforts, stick to Europe or Australia. If you want to disconnect, head to the mountains or jungles of South America. If you want to gain an entirely new perspective on life, work with tribal people of Africa or India

What do you care most about?

The best way to start narrowing down your search is by figuring out what you care most about doing during your gap year before college. Spend time doing community work in the Amazon of Peru or participating in a cultural immersion program in France (you could come home with an impressive accent). Future CEOs can get a leg up on the competition by learning Chinese while studying in China. In fact, there is a gap year program for every major language; you just have to decide if your gap year before college will include pizza in Italy or tapas in Spain.

Want to volunteer or intern on your gap year?

If you are looking to make a social impact or get a taste of a potential career, volunteer placements and internships are perfect ways to spend your gap year before college. You could travel through affordable Southeast Asia while teaching English to children in Cambodia, then educate yourself on positive elephant care while volunteering in Thailand. Join an African safari after a public health internship in Ghana or take Tuesday night tango lessons during a veterinary internship in Argentina. Gap year volunteer and internship programs are constantly looking for motivated and energetic participants. As an 18-year-old-ready-to-take-on-the-world, you’ll fit right in!

The main point and the heart of our gap year advice: don’t limit yourself.
girl standing in water in thailand
Who says you can’t go to beautiful Thailand on your gap year?!

Still wondering: “What is a gap year program?”

While organized gap year programs often include housing, meals, and in-country support, if you’d rather throw on a backpack and couchsurf through your own multi-cultural adventure, go ahead and do it! Or better yet, some gap year programs, like those offered by Cross-Cultural Solutions will give you the chance to experience multiple countries, communities, and excursions, all while not having to worry about where your next meal will be. Other popular gap year programs are offered by Carpe Diem Education and Greenheart Travel.

Browse through more gap year options (and finally answer “What is a gap year program?!”) in GoAbroad’s gap year program directory.

How to tell your parents you’re taking a gap year?

Persuasive speaking 101: plan ahead, eye contact, smile, calm the nerves, and remember your audience.

You probably know what concerns your mom/dad/grandmother/etc. are going to raise about their darling babykins heading out into the scary world with scam artist program leaders — you get the picture. Be prepared so you can assure them of the legitimacy of the gap year program you’ve chosen, the safety precautions they/you will take, and, most importantly, why this is the best decision for you, like, ever.

Of course, you can always break the ice by casually leaving articles outlining all the reasons you should be taking a gap year on the coffee table, taped to the fridge, in their bed… (I’ll just leave this here).

girl eating bowl of soup
Your gap year is all about NEW. Sights, sounds, smells, and most importantly, TASTE!

How to fund your gap year like a BOSS

You mean you haven’t saved thousands of dollars to travel yet?! Just kidding. If your weekend shifts at the local movie theater haven’t brought you to baller status just yet, don’t worry.

Speak to college financial services about what kind of financial assistance is available for students going abroad. Search online for scholarships specifically designed for gap year for spring 2017 graduates. Community organizations and nonprofits are a great place to start, as many encourage young adult educational and social development.

And, yes, save your pennies. Mow lawns, walk dogs, babysit, do some extra ward work for dad, throw a fundraising graduation party (especially if it’s a volunteer trip!) – start now and you’ll be surprised how much you can save if you are truly committed to make your gap year travel happen (skipping Starbucks and getting acquainted with the dollar menu works wonders, too).

girl sitting on macbook
Do research to figure out what gap year opportunities are available for you.

Make the most of gap year travel!

College will always be there. The chance to accidentally become besties with Malia Obama when you cross paths during her gap year trip in South America has already passed, but you could still bump into her during her internship in NYC if you make your gap year happen within the next year!

Needless to say, the time is now to take our gap year advice and spend the next year traveling across continents, befriending strangers, getting cultured in international films, and understanding your part in our globalized world.

Some super-last minute gap year advice: don’t forget to read reviews, reach out to program alumni, and compare programs side by side with MyGoAbroad to help you in your search! You’ve already proved you are a highly intelligent being by choosing to take a gap year before college; just think of how awesome you will be upon your return. Future president says what? 

Find gap year programs on GoAbroad now