What is a gap year after high school?

Why a gap year may be right for you

Going straight from high school to college with no break in between isn’t for everyone—in fact, an estimated 130,000 students take a gap year every academic year.footnote 1 Here’s what a gap year is, the pros and cons of taking one, and how to plan one for yourself.

What’s a gap year?

A gap year is “an intentional period of time devoted to personal growth and exploration through experiential learning opportunities,” according to the Gap Year Association. They often take place between graduating high school and going to college, but they can take place at any point during a student’s college or career journey. A gap year doesn’t have to be a full year—they can be as short as a semester or as long as several years. 

Pros of taking a gap year

  • You can take some me-time to rest and recharge after a long four years of high school.
  • Taking a gap year can give you the time to become well-rounded. You can continue learning about the world and have experiences that being in school may have interfered with.
  • You can figure out what career path you’re passionate about. It’s not always clear right out of high school, but you may have an epiphany during a gap year.
  • You can accomplish important goals before starting school. If you need to work, save more money, want to travel, volunteer, anything—a gap year can help you do it.
  • You can become more independent. Without teachers and institutions structuring your life, you’re free to forge your own path. 

Cons of taking a gap year

  • You may fall a year behind your friends. If your circle chose to start college right away, you likely won’t be in the same graduating class as them. You may not be in classes like them, getting internships like them, or starting your careers on the same timeline.
  • You may lose sight of your goals. Without binding commitments and structure, it’s easy to get distracted. Going to school may become less and less important to you.
  • You will need to find a way to finance your gap year. Financial aid doesn’t cover a gap year, so you’ll have to find the money to help you make ends meet in the meantime.
  • If you plan to go to school after your gap year, it can be hard to get back into the groove of things after taking time off.
  • If your plans don’t work out or if you’re not as productive as you wanted to be, a gap year can feel like lost time.

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How to plan & pay for a gap year

Taking a gap year usually isn’t something you wake up and decide to start immediately—it takes time, planning, and money to support you through it.

Plan your year

Think about school. If you’ve been accepted into college, reach out to your school and talk to an admissions counselor about your deferral options for however much time you need.

Organize your time in chunks. What will you do in the summer months after graduating from high school? Work? Travel? Rest? What will you do afterwards? Think about each month and determine what you will do to plan your time efficiently.

Figure out your travel logistics. If you’re planning on leaving the country, you’ll want to make sure you’ve arranged all the travel and lodging you’ll need. Make sure your passport is in good standing or get one if you don’t have one already. Consider how banking works in the countries you want to go to and get local currency or open a bank account.

Pay for your year

Save. If you’re thinking about taking a gap year or know for sure that you’re taking one, start saving money right away. Whether it’s birthday money or what you earn from a part-time job, start stashing cash away. You never know when you might need it for travel expenses, bills, or to kickstart your saving if you choose to go to school.

Pick up a side hustle. If you have a job now, that’s great, but you can pick up a few low maintenance side gigs to help supplement your income. Any extra money you make can go straight towards your savings.

Receive funding from a gap-year program. If you’re a part of a gap-year program or organization designed for mission-oriented work, they may have grants, scholarships, or other forms of financial assistance that can help you pay your way through the year.

Take out a personal loan. A loan is always an option if you’re in need of money now and don’t have time to save up, but keep in mind that you’ll be expected to pay the loan back with interest.

Fundraise. Social media is a great tool for sourcing money for trips, projects, and more. If you have any generous friends or family members, they may donate to your gap year fund.

Is a gap year right for you?

It might be! Taking a gap year isn’t just a vacation between high school and your next steps—you can make some serious moves to grow as a person and plan out your future. If a gap year is in the cards for you, keep these notes in mind and happy planning!

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote Sallie Mae, the Sallie Mae logo, and other Sallie Mae names and logos are service marks or registered service marks of Sallie Mae Bank. All other names and logos used are the trademarks or service marks of their respective owners. 

footnote 1. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/what-a-gap-year-is-and-how-it-prepares-students-for-college

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