Mental Health Benefits of Taking a Gap Semester
For many young people, college is a rite of passage and an important stepping stone to the future. But formal education can be demanding, especially when it comes to your mental and emotional health. A gap semester might be just what you need to offset the toll your studies can take on you.
Similar to a gap year, a gap semester is a period of time when students take a break from formal education to explore new interests, gain new experiences, and reflect on their personal and career goals. Many students take a gap semester between high school and college, but you can also choose to take a gap semester during college or between college and postgraduate studies.
A gap semester can also give you time to focus on your own well-being. Transition and change are often stressful, and a break from homework, exams, and your usual routine can help you better prepare for the changes that come with leaving home and pursuing higher education.
Many young people choose to take a mental health benefits gap year for these very reasons. But if taking a year off of school seems like too much, the right kind of gap semester can accomplish all this for you in a shorter, more flexible, more affordable period of time.
Read on to learn more about what a gap semester and its mental health benefits could look like for you.
The Benefits of Taking a Gap Semester for Mental Health
A gap semester can give you a chance to catch your breath, learn more about who you are, and reevaluate where you want to go in life. Specifically, a gap semester can provide some of the following benefits.
Reduced Stress and Burnout
Academic pressure can take a significant toll on students’ mental health. According to a 2018 study by the American College Health Association, over 60% of U.S. college students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety. Taking a gap semester can provide a much-needed break from the stress of academic life and allow you to recharge and refocus on what’s most important to you.
During a gap semester, you’ll have the opportunity to explore your interests, values, and goals outside of a traditional academic setting. This can lead to increased self-awareness and a better understanding of what you want out of life. By taking the time to reflect on your experiences, you can gain a better sense of direction and purpose.
Navigating new environments and experiences during a gap semester can be challenging, but it can also help you build up your resilience. By facing challenges and obstacles outside of the classroom, you can develop problem-solving skills, adaptability, and a sense of independence. These skills will be valuable throughout your life, in both academic and personal settings.
Greater Cultural Competence
Traveling or volunteering abroad during a gap semester can expose you to different cultures and ways of life. This can expand your worldview, increase your empathy, and improve your ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds from yourself. Developing cultural competence can help you become a more effective leader and collaborator in many different fields.
Improved Academic Performance
Contrary to what some may believe, taking a gap semester does not have to hurt academic performance. In fact, research suggests that students who take a gap semester are more likely to graduate on time and have higher GPAs than those who do not. According to a study of GPA results by Robert Clagett, the former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, gap-year students tended to outperform in college over the full 4 year University span. This may be because students who take a gap semester have a better sense of direction and purpose, and are more motivated to succeed academically.
Potential Challenges During Your Gap Semester for Mental Health
While there are many benefits to enjoy when you decide to take a gap semester, there are some unique challenges as well. Fortunately, there are also ways to overcome them.
Traveling or living in a new environment can be exciting, but it can also be challenging. Homesickness, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation, can occur during a gap semester, especially if it is your first time away from home. But there are ways to cope. Staying connected with loved ones, participating in local activities, forming friendships with other students, and establishing a routine can all help alleviate feelings of homesickness and isolation.
Another of the most significant challenges of taking a gap semester is the potential financial burden. However, there are many ways to make a gap semester more affordable. For example, you can apply for scholarships, participate in work-study programs, or volunteer with an organization in exchange for room and board.
Difficulty Re-Adjusting to Academic Life
Returning to academic life after a gap semester can be an adjustment, but there are steps you can take to make the transition smoother. For example, staying engaged in academic pursuits during your time off, such as reading or taking online classes, can help you stay mentally sharp.
How To Make the Most of Your Gap Semester for Mental Health
In order to fully benefit from your gap semester, you’ll want to ensure that you identify your goals and priorities. These goals could be related to personal growth, career exploration, or academic preparation. Having a sense of direction can help you stay focused and tailor your plans to your goals.
For instance, if your main goal is to reduce stress and burnout, you’ll want to avoid making plans that could overburden you and make you feel more stressed.
No matter your goals, you’ll also want to ensure that you spend your time in meaningful and impactful ways. You might choose to do this by serving others, stepping out of your comfort zone, or exploring new hobbies and interests.
To reap the full mental health benefits of taking a gap semester, you’ll also want to engage in self-care activities. These include activities that help you take care of your mental, physical, and emotional needs. Getting enough sleep and exercise, eating a healthy diet, fostering friendships, taking time to appreciate nature, and enjoying good books, music, and movies are all great self-care activities.
You can also seek support from your loved ones and from mental health professionals during your gap semester. Having a good support network will help you overcome challenges, and you’ll be able to benefit from an outside perspective. It can also provide a sense of accountability and motivation.
Another helpful practice is to keep a journal throughout your mental health gap semester. Journaling can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your goals. It can also help you prepare for your return to academic life. Journaling is a great way to reflect on yourself and see how far you’ve come. Throughout your gap semester, take time to reflect on your experiences and what you’ve learned.
Global Citizen Year provides a gap semester experience that helps students focus on personal growth. Our program helps students develop new skills, broaden their perspective, improve their mental and emotional resilience, and build self-confidence.
We understand that taking an extended period of time for self-reflection — while having new experiences — can help to relieve stress and anxiety, improve one’s sense of purpose, and provide a renewed sense of motivation. The structure of our program helps provide a sense of security while enabling students to explore new ideas and interests.
If you are graduating soon and are considering taking a break from school to focus on yourself, apply for a gap semester with Global Citizen Year. Our program offers an incredible, immersive semester in South Africa where students can experience South Africa’s vibrant culture and work with human rights advocates to make real positive differences in people’s lives.