Do you get tired just thinking about another year of homework and exams? Are you ready for a new adventure–but not the kind that involves buying books and late nights in the library? While your friends sit through lectures this semester, you could be promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in Vietnam, learning Spanish in Peru, or interning in New York City. How? By taking a gap year. Taking time off before university is a major decision, so let’s break it down.

What is a gap year, exactly?

A “Gap Year” is a year or semester students take off before enrolling in university. It doesn’t have be time dawdling at home—”gappers” typically work to save money, volunteer, intern, or study a language abroad. Most students elect this time off because they don’t feel prepared for university or they’re looking for more life experience first. According to Jason Sarouhan, a counselor at Center for Interim Programs, a gap year consulting organization, gap years enable young people to gain more independence and self-empowerment. The time between high school and university offers the natural opportunity to take a break and to recalibrate one’s focus and centeredness,” he says, adding that young people can benefit from structured time away from school or work.

Why consider taking a gap year?

A gap year is meant to revitalize your mind – to avoid the burnout that can accompany immediately taking on more intense coursework. A gap year is a chance to reconnect with a love of learning and a sense of curiosity about the world,” says Sarouhan. Robin Pendoley, the Co-Founder and CEO of the gap year program Thinking Beyond Borders, adds that, “Gap year students gain experience that helps them connect ideas in university – they’re able to better put everything they’ll be studying in context. Gap year students tend to own their learning and university experience,” he said, “as a result, they get far more out of the time, energy, and money they invest in university.”

How should you expect to grow during your gap year?

However gappers spend their time off, they tend to develop a better idea of how they want to spend the rest of their life. “A well-designed gap year helps students find direction, purpose, and passion for their learning,” said Pendoley. “They can return to school with a clear understanding of the opportunity it represents to become an expert in an area the student is truly passionate about and committed to.” Gappers who go abroad or volunteer at home will even emerge from their gap time with a broadened world view.

Can you afford to take a gap year?

If you choose to work full-time at home during your gap year, you probably won’t need to worry about expenses. What about gappers hoping to jet off to Asia to volunteer or study Italian in Rome? Gap year advocates like Pendoley opine that price shouldn’t be an excuse to not consider a gap year. Gap year programs typically cost far less than one year of university tuition. Though prices may range from R30 000 – R150 000* for a full year program designed by a gap year organization, less costly programs are available. Keep in mind that it’s possible to travel and work during your gap year in order to save money for your university years.
*Broad estimates

Taking a gap year is an untraditional path. How do you tune out the naysayers?

Whether it’s family, friends, or your high school history teacher, you might have to quell some criticisms of your pursuit. Why might they question a gap year? Skewing from the traditional path from high school to university isn’t the norm. So, do your research and debunk skeptics’ misconceptions. “With studies showing as many as 30% of university students failing to graduate and the average length of an undergraduate career over 5 years, any investment we make to help students gain the sense of direction and purpose they need in university is a good thing,” says Pendoley.

What could you do during your gap year?

Do a Gap Year Program

Center for Interim Programs offers gap year counseling services and has over 5,600 programs to choose from. Interested in science, but not sure what you’d focus on? Consider having Interim help you find a conservation project on reefs or rainforest research in the Caribbean. Thinking Beyond Borders’ gap year programs focus on addressing critical global issues, like public health and sustainable agriculture in anywhere from Ecuador to India.

Volunteer Abroad or Domestically

If you’re looking to find volunteer programs on your own, compare programs that fit your interest and budget at

Do an Internship

If you want to spend your gap time gaining valuable work experience, but also want a structured program, apply for internships. But if you’re looking for more low-cost options, simply check your local job listings or websites to find internships in a field you might study.

Study a Language

If you’re going to take a year off, why not combine volunteering or traveling with language learning? Projects-Abroad offers language course programs and home-stays. You could study Mandarin in China, French in Senegal, Spanish in Costa Rica, and more.

A gap year might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely an adventure worth considering. So, why not take a break? You might find a bigger world awaits you before you return to the comfort of the classroom.