Education doesn’t need to be limited to enrolling in a traditional college course and being on campus every day. You can expand your worldview, gain priceless experiences, and add to your resume by joining a gap semester program. For most students, taking a gap semester is simply a matter of knowing what options are available and taking advantage of those opportunities.
You may be about to graduate high school or currently enrolled in college and looking for an opportunity to get a new perspective by learning outside the classroom. Whatever the case, a gap semester is an excellent opportunity to stretch yourself, learn new skills, and get clarity on your future! Here is everything you need to know about gap semester programs and how to prepare for them.
What is a Gap Semester Program?
Gap semesters are international experiences that students can take as a break from their classroom studies. These experiences are specifically designed to give students a new perspective by exposing them to different parts of the world with unique cultures. Traveling abroad, going on a service or sustainability trip, learning a new language, or focusing on global business internships are all common reasons why students invest in gap semester programs (and we’ll dive into the details of this later).
As you may have already guessed, gap semesters are very similar to gap years, but instead of dedicating a full school year, you’re only taking a semester’s worth of time to travel and explore—usually about 6-15 weeks.
Why Take a Gap Semester?
Getting out of the traditional classroom setting with gap semester programs is one of the best ways to create new opportunities and learn more about yourself and the skills you want to develop. Plus, with a large range of potential programs at your disposal, there is something for everyone. Some of the most direct benefits include the following points.
You don’t have to miss an entire year of school
Taking time off to travel, volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, or make your resume competitive is never a waste of time. However, if you’re in a more intensive program or need to take a class that is only offered during certain semesters and can’t really afford to miss a year of school, you don’t have to! Gap semester programs pack a punch in the sense that you can get a lot of exciting and beneficial experiences out of just a couple of months and still stay on track in terms of classes and graduation.
Gap semesters tend to be less expensive than gap years, so you know that you’re getting the best bang for your buck by getting a vast experience without emptying your bank account. You also don’t need a gap year just to qualify for aid. For example, with Global Citizen Year you can get financial aid for their gap semester program to help cover the costs.
You get all of the benefits of a gap year
A year can feel like a big chunk of your life, and you should consider your time valuable. However, if you can get the same unique and rewarding experiences of a gap year in half of the time, you can really optimize your schedule. Not only does this save you money as we discussed, but it also:
- Builds independence. Branching out on your own can feel risky and intimidating, but similar to taking a gap year, a gap semester can kick-start your life of adulthood and greater responsibilities while still offering some guidance through a program.
- Learn new skills. Especially if you want to be more competitive for college applications, internships, job resumes, or other opportunities, a gap semester looks great on your list of accomplishments, and you can often develop a specific and marketable skill while you’re abroad. Whether you’re part of a humanitarian organization or an internship program, you can gain new skills like learning a new language, working on a team, and developing other business-related experiences that will help you with your occupation in the future.
- Experience a new culture. One of the most enriching elements of a gap semester is that you can still immerse yourself in an entirely different culture without spending a year there. A gap year gives you plenty of time to get to know the people, the sites, the landscapes, and the experiences of a new country, and you don’t have to uproot your life for a whole year to get those experiences if you don’t want to.
Gap semesters are also exciting because there’s a lot of flexibility and opportunity. Let’s say you’re trying to pick between a social justice internship in Kenya and an exploratory travel abroad trip in India. You don’t really have to choose between them if they’re both only one semester, so just do both! With the right funding and planning, you have a lot more options to pick from and you don’t have to necessarily limit yourself to one “big” experience.
Gap Semester Ideas
- Volunteer to advance a cause you care about. You can make a direct impact on the people and places you care about, whether you want to help protect the earth through conservation programs or work with underserved communities. Global Citizen Year’s Take Action Lab focuses on human rights, so if you’re passionate about social justice and the rights of others, this program is for you!
- Internships to build skills for a potential career. Your formal education is one of the biggest ways you qualify for a job after college, but most companies are looking for experience, too. An internship offers that experience while still understanding that you’re a student, so take the opportunity to get new skills and experiences now when you can afford to travel abroad as a student.
- Learn a new language. Knowing a second or third language is an invaluable skill to have, both for your social life and for your academic and professional careers, too! It makes you far more prepared to thrive in today’s world of mass communication and the global economy, and it makes you stand out against the competition.
Where To Go for Your Gap Semester?
No two gap semester programs are exactly the same and depending on your availability, comfort levels, and goals, you can find a program that works best for you, your resources, and your personality. Your primary options look like this:
Domestic. Staying in your home country for the gap semester is an option—there are plenty of cultures and service opportunities right at home.
International. Travel abroad and try something totally different! Experience a new culture and gain a global perspective.
Virtual. For ultimate flexibility, do a gap semester program virtually. You can further your education and collaborate with people your age on current issues from the comfort of your dorm room.
How to Prepare for a Gap Semester
So, once you know you’re interested, how do you prepare for that semester of travel or service? Here is what we suggest.
- Reflect on your goals. What do you want to learn from the experience? How do you want this experience to help you grow? What are you most passionate about, and how could learning from experts and other cultures help you make a difference about that passion?
- Save your money. Look into financial aid options for gap semester programs and then save your money. You’ll want funds to try new things while you’re out of your home country, too!
- Research the location you’re traveling to. Make sure you’re comfortable with being away from home and traveling to a new place. You need to be prepared for different weather conditions, cultural expectations, and other location-based practices.
- Connect with mentors or peers that have taken gap semesters. Reach out to people who have participated in a gap semester, especially if you can find someone who has gone to the place you’re interested in going to. How was their experience? How did they prepare? Do they have any advice for you?
Taking a Gap Semester with Global Citizen Year
If you think you would benefit from joining a gap semester program, check out Global Citizen Year! Young people with a passion for life and the courage to do something different and impactful are the perfect candidates for our gap semester programs, like Take Action Lab.
The Take Action Lab program allows you to travel to South Africa and learn from human rights activists while being a part of real change. Learn more today to see if you’re a good fit for our gap semester programs!