What is a Gap Year?

Anna, on her gap year in Greece

A gap year (also known as a bridge or sabbatical year), is usually a break in studies taken by students between high school and college.

Gap years can take multiple forms, and no two gap years are the same.  Students may choose to work, travel, intern, volunteer, perform military or religious service, or just take time to explore their interests and rejuvenate before university.  We believe the Gap Year Association highlighted the key components of the most meaningful gap years, when they mentioned “intentionality, deliberately expanding one’s comfort zone, having a cross-cultural experience, and reflecting on one’s experiences”.

Each year, thousands of students take gap years, and universities recognize the value that gap years have for the academic, emotional, mental and social development of their students.

Students who take gap years consistently report that that year between high school and college is one of the most meaningful of their lives. From an increased self-awareness, appreciation of cultural differences, and a developed sense of citizenship, students returning from gap years see their experiences as exceptionally beneficial to themselves both as learners and as members of their communities.

Not only do students benefit personally, they benefit academically as well. Middlebury College reported that students who took gap years “over-performed” during their four years of college in terms of their GPA, while students overwhelmingly indicate that their gap years helped them hone in on their particular academic interests.

[I gained] an understanding of my own interests, drive, and place within a global context. Taking a gap year gave me a significant increase in confidence as well as my capabilities and intellectual curiosity, allowing me to find greater success once I arrived at Duke. – Michael, Class of 2020 – Economics Major

[Through my Gap Year] I gained confidence in my ability to adapt to any environment, which made my transition to college much easier. I did not have the same anxieties about fitting in and adjusting that I may have otherwise. – Erin, Class of 2020, Public Policy and Cultural Anthropology Major

More than anything, I think I regained my enthusiasm for college and for learning [during my Gap Year]. By the end of high school, I was tired: tired of school, tired of classes, tired of the competition and the frustration. When I came back from my gap year, I realized I had remembered all the aspects of school life that I loved and made me want to go to college in the first place. – Liam, Class of 2020 – Computer Science Major