What is a Gap Year?

In recent years, more and more students have started taking gap years between high school and college, to explore, learn, and immerse in different cultures around the world. At Global Citizen Year, we are here to help you with questions you may have, to help you answer not only “what is a gap year?” but what can taking one do for you as you wrap up your high school experience.

The definition of a gap year put forth by the Gap Year Association is as follows:

“A semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

Simply put, a gap year is a time between high school and college where a student switches from traditional academic classroom learning to other meaningful ways of continuing their education. Creating your own personal gap year can be difficult, especially when you may be dealing with housing, travel, loans, language differences, and finding jobs on the other side of the world. Because it is so difficult to create your own, there are gap year programs that have already formulated and built relationships with people all over the world.

In a time when college applications are more competitive than ever, and workplaces even more so, college admissions offices are looking for students with real experiences and unique qualifications that will set them apart from the crowd. A gap year of travel and personal growth can be a great way to do just that.



An intentional gap year is a gap year that will allow you to not only learn about new cultures and the world around you, but will also provide you with new insights about yourself. An intentional gap year will help you to explore and discover your personal goals. It can also help you to gain confidence and purpose in your future endeavors. 

Intentional gap years should also help you to explore and succeed in your career goals. We at Global Citizen Year are dedicated to elevating young leaders to discover their passions and power up their self confidence and  leadership skills. 



Gap years are amazing opportunities! They provide lifelong memories, lasting friendships, amazing adventures and real-world experiences that will give you a competitive edge at college. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — there are many things that can give a gap year meaning. A gap year program can be the best use of one of the most formative years of your life. Unlike the rigid structures of high school or college, with a gap year you get to shape your own experience around the ways that you want to grow. Whether it’s gaining a global perspective, getting hands-on experience, or defining your purpose – you can craft a meaningful gap year to fulfill your goals.

So when you ask “what is a gap year?” that definition can mean something as unique as the individual that you are — and can even evolve and change into a new definition once you go on one. 



A gap year allows you to learn as much about yourself as you do about the world, and in turn improves your education and your career. But in order to answer “what is a gap year,” it is probably easier to start by defining what it is not. There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the concept of a gap year, so let’s tackle a few of them right now.


It’s not a “gap.”

At Global Citizen Year, we don’t like to think of the year after high school and before college as a “gap” in the literal sense. A gap is an empty, wasted space, and this time in your life should be the exact opposite. Instead, we think of a gap year as a bridge or an opportunity, carrying you from one phase of your life to the next. With the right design, a gap year becomes a launching pad for success in college and beyond.


It’s not a remediation.

It’s a selective program designed for driven youth who want to enter college with the advantage of real world experience.


It’s not just a volunteer program.

While you will be making a positive impact on the local community through your involvement with a local organization, think of it more as an apprenticeship. Rather than coming in to “save” a community, you’ll be learning new skills and perspectives by working alongside locals on projects that matter to their community.


It’s not studying abroad.

You will learn a lot. And you can sometimes even earn college credits. But this is not a study abroad program where your school work continues, just in a new location. This is a real-life experience abroad where you learn lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom. With a gap year, you aren’t just a student of a new culture, you become part of it.


There are several different ways you can take your gap year. 

  • International – If you are looking to experience a new culture, learn a new language, or make a global impact, traveling abroad for your gap year is the right choice for you. Most gap year programs that include international travel will help you to find housing within a community in a foreign country and provide you with skill building opportunities. Our Fellowship program at Global Citizen Year is a great option for young leaders that are looking to travel abroad. We prioritize connecting diverse cohorts of young leaders with global communities to facilitate leadership, mentorship, and global citizenship.
  • Domestic – If you are not interested in traveling abroad, there are gap year opportunities that are available for you to experience while staying within your home country. Domestic gap years allow you to connect with communities closer to home and explore your home country in a more meaningful and powerful way. 
  • Independent – Independent gap years are gap years that are not headed or designed by an organization, but are designed by you. Independent gap years can offer more flexibility and full control, but they can also be a bit more complicated as you will be in charge of finding your own opportunities, housing, and meaning. 

Click here if you are interested in learning even more gap year ideas!



Contrary to what you may believe, gap years can be accessible to everyone, not just the privileged. While some gap year programs may be more expensive than others, some gap year organizations offer scholarships, loans, and other financial aid options. In fact, 80% of Global Citizen Year participants receive financial aid. Click here to learn more about Global Citizen Year Scholarships



So now that you have a good gap year definition, hopefully you also have a better idea of what an experience like this actually is — and what it can do for you. A gap year program with Global Citizen Year is a gateway not just into the next year of your life, but to the rest of your life. You’ll experience new cultures. Discover yourself, make a meaningful impact, hone your leadership skills and learn about global citizenship. By choosing Global Citizen Year, you’re choosing to expand your world and joining a lifelong network of people with the same goal.

To learn more about Global Citizen Year, read an overview of our program and envision spending one of the biggest years of your life with us.


Gapyear.com: www.gapyear.com/articles/10-ways-a-gap-year-can-improve-your-career



What is a gap year?

A gap year is traditionally the name given to a pause in education, taken after high school and before college.


What is a gap year in college?

A gap year is different from a study abroad program, it is a real-life experience abroad — outside of the classroom. Some gap year programs may even allow you to earn college credit as you complete them.


What does it mean to take a gap year?

A gap year allows you to learn as much about yourself as you do about the world, and may give you the chance to improve your education and career opportunities in the process.


What is a college gap year?

A college gap year after high school is not a “gap,” but rather a launching pad to carry you from one phase of life to the next.


More Gap Year Resources