What is a Gap Year in 2020/2021?

Ethan Knight, Executive Director of Gap Year Association
August 3, 2020
What is a Gap Year in 2020/2021?

Gap Years are on the rise. According to GEBG member data, 24% of reporting schools have noted an increased interest in gap years among this year’s graduates. With uncertainty around the possibility of returning to in-person schooling, increased international attention to racial injustices and social justice education, and more opportunities in schools around self-exploration and student action; the stage has been set to empower more young people to take advantage of these unique and invaluable opportunities.

The GEBG has a long-standing relationship with the Gap Year Association, “the only national not-for-profit standards-setting organization devoted to responsibly growing the gap year movement in the US.” In this article, the GYA’s Executive Director, Ethan Knight, shares some thoughts and resources on the value of Gap Years in these unusual and evolving times.

What is a Gap Year in 2020/2021?

As COVID-19 has disrupted the normal rhythm of transitioning from high school to higher education for many students, gap years are emerging as an option that a significant number of students are considering for Fall 2020.

About one in five of recent high school graduates has decided not to go to college in the fall or isn’t sure of their plans, according to a survey by the American Council on Education and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Inevitably, as more colleges have announced their plans to go online and to intentionally reduce class sizes to be considerate of COVID-19, more students are lifting their heads to the prospect of a gap year.

As an educator, however, how do you support your students to make a responsible choice and take a year “on” rather than a year off?

According to the Gap Year Association (www.gapyearassociation.org), a gap year is “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.”

For those who might be considering a gap year, now is a good time to research your options!  While no two gap years are alike–as they are intentionally designed to be tailored to each student’s individual abilities and goals–they generally include a combination of

  • volunteering and/or service,
  • career exploration of internship,
  • paid work,
  • and/or free exploration of a passion.

There are formal gap year programs that students can apply to, and there is also the option to design one’s own gap year–in fact, roughly half of all students who take a gap year do so independently. See real student profiles on COVIDGapYears, a site created for students planning for this coming year.

Gap Year Benefits

The benefits of gap years have been researched and documented, notably by the Gap Year Association. Some key points include the following:

  • Gappers gain maturity, self-confidence, a sense of purpose, and college- and career-readiness skills as a result of gap year experiences.
  • Yes, parents! Gappers do return to college–90% are back within a year.
  • Gap year students do well in college–research shows they have higher GPAs than non-gapping students, and they graduate in fewer years than non-gapping peers.
  • In careers, 86% are satisfied or very satisfied professionally after a gap year experience.
  • Higher education institutions understand that gappers are more invested in, and passionate about, learning and their education, and they are stronger community members when in college.

Gap Years and COVID

Like all professionals in education (and in other fields), those in the gap year community are working through different scenarios as COVID realities continue to unfold. First and foremost, of course, is the safety of their students, but also of the local community. Here are a few proactive steps that are being taken, led by the Gap Year Association:

  • Coronavirus-Conscious Programming–Gap year programs are adopting rigorous COVID protocols in line with the emerging standards for best practice
  • Domestic programs–necessity is the mother of invention, and predictably we’re seeing a renaissance of gapping domestically. While many programs are already full into the spring of 2021, there are also a variety of new programs that the GYA is recruiting. Not all are outdoors-oriented, and they are all offering interactive, safety-conscious, educational (and fun) experiences
  • International options–few for Fall 2020 due to COVID-related travel restrictions, but a handful of countries are active in their ability to take students if educationally focused
  • Virtual, hybrid, and collaborative options–the gap year community is flexible and adaptable

Are You Interested? Tips for Exploring Gap Years

  • Define your “why.” A good place for any gapper to start exploring is to determine why taking intentional time off might be the right path for them.
    • Why do you want to take a gap year?
    • What do you hope to gain, and how would you like to grow?

Note: You may not have the answers right now … but having an “intentional” gap year, the data shows, is critical to a continued path in higher education.

  • Research. The Gap Year Association website has numerous resources to help you along your gap year journey: A Planning GuideTransition Guidesearchable program databases, information on college deferral policies, information on scholarships and financial aid, and much more.
    • We strongly encourage taking no more than 45 minutes on the GYA website to write down program activities that are exciting–pay attention first to the activities, not the programs themselves. These activities easily turn into a great roadmap to build a phenomenal and successful gap year.
    • Check out resources shared through COVIDGapYears.
  • Consider a Gap Year Counselor. There are gap year counselors–similar to college counselors–who have extensive knowledge of planning gap years and offer support before, during, and after a gap year journey.

When it comes to a gap year–even in this time of COVID–as one gapper said, “It is a transformational experience that has just begun to define my life. If you can dream it, you can do it!”

For more information, visit the Gap Year Association at www.gapyearassociation.org.

The Gap Year Association (GYA) is the only national not-for-profit standards-setting organization devoted to responsibly growing the gap year movement in the US.