Gap Year Experience Essay Topics

A gap year! A few years ago this phrase was casually thrown around, but now the word's ‘gap year’ seem to be on every young person’s lips. It seems that every time a gap year is mentioned it's met with ideas of beautiful beaches, beautiful people and a wonderful time. But what are they like in reality? Are gap year programs really all sunshine and daisies or is there a little more to them?

One surefire way to convince your mom and dad to let you take a gap year is to do your homework. This list details the pros and cons of taking a gap year to help you decide if it’s really right for you.

PRO: It'll make your resume look pretty snazzy

A gap year can provide a person with valuable new skills that any employer will be impressed by. Cultural awareness, organization, and an ability to work independently are just some of the skills that are gained by taking a year out.

CON: You'll be a year behind

This can be a tough one for many people. They wave as their friends all trek to college and start their new lives and they are left behind. They can’t start their new adventure yet because they don’t have the cash. This is easily offset by working hard and saving cash quickly in order to jet off as soon as possible.

PRO: You'll meet new people

On a gap year it’s impossible not to meet new people. Throughout school and college we are surrounded by the same folks but taking a gap year allows us to discover others, make new friends, and interact with people from all walks of life.

CON: You'll be homesick

It’s something that hits most of us at some point. Whether you're missing family, friends or simply home comforts, you may find yourself wondering why you chose a life on the road. But fear not! The joy of travel is that there is always somebody to meet and something to do. Power through and you'll be glad you did.

PRO: You'll have tons of stories

After spending a year away the stories will mount up; these can be great conversation starters in the interview room, at parties or, simply just to look back on and remember.

CON: It's a risk

Sure it is! But where do we get in life if we aren’t willing to take risks? This is what makes a gap year so exciting; not knowing what to expect is all part of the adventure. The key is to take care and travel with common sense. Fun fact: I've yet to meet a gap year traveler or career breaker who "regretted" their decision to hit the road.

PRO: It’s a long escape from the daily grind

A gap year, for most people, is the period of non-traditional life that you'll ever have. It is often a once in a lifetime experience and the chance to escape the daily grind. However, if planned right, it will also be an educational opportunity of growth and other benefits and not just a "vacation" or year off. A gap year should be a year on.

CON: It can be expensive

This depends on the destination and the duration of the trip but, chances are, when taking a gap year you’re going to spend quite a bit of cash. The best way to fund a gap year is to work and travel at the same time. It’s also a good idea to plan trips independently as this will cut costs dramatically – for the first time traveler this may be a little difficult and paying extra for the help of someone to do it for you might be a good idea.

PRO: It’s a great way to learn

A gap year will provide you with much more than any classroom setting ever can. We can learn a lot in the classroom, but it isn’t until we put it into practice in the real world that we really understand what’s going on. A gap year lets us learn as we do and there’s much more room for new experiences to enter our lives.

We will also learn a lot more about ourselves and who we are as people; sometimes an experience during a gap year can knock you a bit but you’ll learn just how much you can deal with when you really have to. Whether volunteering, studying, or just traveling, you're bound to learn a ton.

CON: It can be stressful

Booking vaccinations, getting tickets and insurance, visas and accommodation sorted; all this and the adventure hasn’t even begun. It does get easier as you get used to life on the road but there will always be situations that will test your stress levels to the max.

Planning independently can be tough, whether it’s language barriers, currency, or trying to work out the public transport systems, so sometimes it’s good to kick back, spend a little more and let someone else do the hard work. Doing formalized programs are a great way to get situated and meet like-minded folks. Just be sure read reviews first!

PRO: You'll look after yourself

Some people might put this in the cons list; who wants to look after themselves if they can rely on Mom and Dad to help them out? But the truth is we’ve all got to stand on our own two feet at some point and the sooner we can learn how to do this the better. Going on a gap year can also help us get used to life on a budget, which is great preparation for college.

CON: There's the potential to waste a lot of time

Many people think their trip will begin as soon as they finish school and kind of just wait for things to happen. This is not the case - as soon as the decision to have a gap year is made, the planning and saving needs to begin. If this is done then the gap year really can begin as soon as the school year is finished.

However, by not planning carefully many people find weeks and months passing by before they can even step onto that first plane.

PRO: It’s a break from traditional education

Many people who enter college straight from school regret their choice of course within the first two years. Taking a break from education and going away for a while gives us the chance to really consider what the right course is. Not only this, but a gap year can provide a renewed vigor for study and a more focused approach to learning.

CON: You're no longer a student

It’s a pretty big deal, going from school into the real world. It can be a big shock getting used to this new way of life. Many people prefer to take this transition a little more slowly by studying or doing an internship abroad.

PRO: You'll learn a new language

There’s no better way to learn a new language than to live in the country that speaks it. Being immersed in a foreign language means that all of the new words that are learned can get put into practice straight away. People who live in native speaking countries of their target language are able to pick up the basics much faster than people who stay at home. You'll be a foreign language pro in no time!

CON: Um.. wait... What's that?? There are MORE pros than cons?

Don't stop reading quite yet, you adventurous, you!

PRO: It doesn’t have to be a year

A gap year can be as short or as long as people want them to be. Some choose to take some time out, get a job and save some cash before heading off, this way they can have a great experience without worrying too much about their funds. Others want a longer time away and leave as soon as they have a feasible amount - this means they’re always watching what they spend but they’re able to travel longer and fit more in. Most people who travel this way will find work abroad to fund their trip.

PRO: You'll become more mature

People who take gap years often report that their family and friends say ‘you’ve changed’ when they return home, but it’s never in a bad way. A gap year introduces a person to so many new ideas and experiences it’s probably impossible not to change in some ways. Taking a gap year can put you in situations that many people (who never leave their own country) will never face.

Will You Take a Gap Year?

There’s no denying that spending time abroad will enhance your resume, give a young person valuable new skills and ensure the experience of a life time. The advantages of a gap year can't be touted enough. But, a gap year is not for everyone and there are other things you can consider -- especially for individuals who are new to traveling, the gap year disadvantages may present huge stumbling blocks.

Whatever you choose, remember that any time spent traveling abroad will be life-changing. Also, just do it. No, seriously. This is that "sign" you've been waiting for.

Looking for a Gap Year Program?

Photo Credits: IES Abroad.

Excited about college but not quite ready to start? Each year, students across America are choosing to postpone their traditional academic plans and participate in a gap year experience.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is a year spent taking time off between life stages. An increasingly popular option, it provides time for traveling, volunteering, learning a new language, or experiencing any number of other activities for personal growth. Typically, students take a gap year after graduating from high school and before attending college.

Why Take a Gap Year?

While there are many compelling reasons to take a gap year, one of the most common is the opportunity for students to explore their interests and develop a purpose for their future. Students can take a break from intense coursework and focus on enriching life experiences.

Whether they spend the year traveling, volunteering, working, or all three, students who have completed a gap year are often revitalized for their return to the academic world the following year. According to David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, taking a gap year since participants may be more focused, mature, and motivated for their undergraduate experience.

Many students also find that their gap year allows them to help others. For students choosing to spend the year volunteering abroad, some of the benefits include:

  • Enlightening cultural exchange between the student and inhabitants of the host country
  • Making a real difference in the lives of the people of developing countries
  • The chance to make a positive impact on the environment.

Gap Year Options

There are no rules when it comes to taking a gap year, so the possibilities are truly endless. Luckily, there are organizations that specialize in helping students organize their adventures. For example, some companies assist with everything from finding a host family, to setting up the volunteer project, to taking care of meals and travel insurance.

Areas of focus students may choose from for their gap year activities include:

  • Animals
  • Archaeology
  • Business
  • Conservation
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Human Rights
  • Journalism
  • Sports

Things to Consider

As exciting as a year off before college may sound, there are several important issues to consider before embarking on a gap year.

  • Whether to individually design a program or use the resources of an established organization—The freedom and independence of a self-designed program may appeal to some, but turning to one of the experienced providers can help alleviate logistical and safety concerns.
  • Planning for college—Students who apply for college during their senior year of high school can defer enrollment for a year, so they'll already have their place secured and can easily start classes upon completing the gap year.
  • Students who weren't happy with the results of their college applications might choose to take a gap year to improve their test scores, develop a skill or reassess their list of target schools
  • Participating in a college bridge year program—While the gap year concept has only recently gained momentum in the United States, some colleges, including Princeton University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offer fellowship programs for incoming students to defer their start date and experience new opportunities abroad.
  • Thinking about goals—When planning your gap year, consider how taking this time to learn more about yourself and the world can help you grow as a person and prepare to take on further challenges. Going into the year with personal goals will help you stay focused and work toward success, both during your gap year and when you return.

Featured Program:

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad is one of the largest volunteer abroad organizations in the world. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad sends over 50,000 people abroad each year on a variety of service projects and internships overseas. All participants receive unparalleled in-country support from their full-time, professional staff to ensure that the experience is safe, worthwhile and fun. Destinations are available in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the South Pacific. Their Global Gap program takes gap year students to 5 countries around the world over the course of an academic year. Learn more or request a brochure online.

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