How To Take A Gap Year After High School?

High school is a testing time of your life. Not only are there academic obligations that you need to fulfill but a lot of thought goes into planning for your future. Up until this point in your life, you have only known a structured academic environment and what lies ahead, without these constraints, can seem pretty daunting. 

It comes as no surprise then that a lot of high school kids opt for a gap year instead. It gives them time to introspect, discover more about themselves and the world, and become more independent. Besides, it allows them to explore what they like outside of the school system and eventually decide what they want to pursue in college. In a survey[1], it was found that 81% of the students who took a gap year wanted a break from academic constraints while 85% wanted to travel and experience other cultures. 

In this guide, we will take you through the step-by-step process of taking a gap year. But, before that, let’s learn more about what a gap year is. 

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is traditionally defined as a break a student takes from academia. It can be right after high school or after college. This is the time you take off to pursue other interests such as volunteer work, traveling, exploring different career options, etc. Some students also choose to work, either part-time or full-time. 

Ideally, this time away from structured systems should allow you to become more independent, get a taste of the real world, and find your balance in life. 

However, most students eventually return to college within a year and according to studies[2], as many as 48% of the students who take a gap year return to college with renewed enthusiasm. 

According to an article[3] by the Wall Street Journal, competitive high school life and a desire to discover more about themselves are two top reasons students take a gap year. So, if you are among those who are contemplating taking a gap year, here’s an extensive step-by-step guide for you to help you weigh the pros and cons and learn how to go about it. Read on to know more. 

How to take a gap year after high school: A step-by-step guide

A well-planned gap year can be a transformative experience that equips you with life-changing skills and allows you to understand the world better. Here’s how to go about it: 

1. Introspection

Before taking a gap year, it is important to ask yourself certain essential questions. Some of them are:

  • What are my hobbies and passions?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • How can I finance my gap year?
  • What will be the purpose of my gap year?

When you sit back and introspect, you get greater clarity and can identify your objectives. This ensures that you do not make ill-informed decisions and regret things in the future. 

2. Carry out Proper Research

The next step is to carry out proper research and narrow down the purpose of your gap year. Do you want to attend a summer program, learn music, take part in different activities, travel, take up internships, or carry out volunteer work?

Understand what drives you towards a gap year and draw up a proper plan. At this stage, it may be helpful to talk to your parents and teachers to get greater clarity and learn from their experiences. 

According to a 2015 report[2], the most significant influences for students wanting to take a gap year were:

  • The desire to gain life experiences and focus on self-growth (92%)
  • The desire to travel and explore other cultures (85%)
  • Explore various study options (44%)
  • Take part in volunteer work(48%)
  • The desire to get a break from academic life (82%)

So, whether you want to do one thing or a bunch of activities during your gap year, it is important to do your due research and plan accordingly.

3. Plan your Finances

A gap year can be risky if you do not have a proper financial plan in place. This is because traveling and specialization programs are expensive and your parents may not have the budget for it. As such, it is important to plan your finances and create a detailed budget that includes your traveling, accommodation, and living expenses.

Look into grants or scholarships and part-time work opportunities to sponsor your gap year. 

4. Create an Itinerary 

Once you’ve decided on your gap year’s purpose and budget, begin creating a detailed itinerary. If you have chosen specialization programs, look more into their structure, time frame, and how they can help your career path. You can also start by reading reference books for the course.

If you have chosen to travel, look into unconventional destinations, explore different regions, and try to learn more about the culture of the regions you have chosen. Besides, if you are traveling to regions where your native language is not spoken, it is a great opportunity to learn a new language. Take online crash courses to learn more about the language and culture of the areas you are visiting. Learning more about different cultures makes you more worldly and opens doors to new, exciting opportunities.

To give you a starting point, you can explore some popular summer Russian programs

Creating a detailed itinerary will help you gain clarity and you can clear any confusion that may arise in your planning journey. 

5. Take Time to Decide on Your Career Path

While taking a gap year is exciting and you get the opportunity to learn different things, it is also important to reflect on what lies ahead. You have to take time to decide on your career path and not waste time procrastinating. 

Decide on which field you want to go into, look into what career options are there in the chosen field, and how the programs you have chosen during your gap year may help better your career prospects. In addition to this, you can also look at different colleges, and what they expect of their students, and take this gap year as an opportunity to better prepare yourself for college. 

6. Establish a Support Network

Taking a gap year can be stressful as many of your friends are settling into college and you may feel like you are missing out. Besides, if you are traveling, you are away from home for long periods of time. 

Therefore, it is important to establish a support network of people who can provide support and guidance. Having people, be it your friends, seniors, teachers, or guardians, whom you can reach out to during your journey is a huge boon. 


While it is important to be as productive as possible during your gap year, make sure to also recharge and rejuvenate. Focusing on your mental health will better prepare you for college and ensure you start afresh with renewed vigor. 

Taking a gap year is a unique and interesting opportunity to discover more about your passions, engage in career exploration activities, and gain real-life experiences as you step into the real world. By following this step-by-step guide, you can embark on an exciting journey that will be deeply fulfilling and full of experiences you are bound to cherish for life. 

As you step into the unknown world, you will learn to become more self-reliant, resilient, and adaptable. So, make the most of the opportunities that come your way and make decisions that resonate with your plans for the future. 


  1. Temple University Institute for Survey Research. (n.d.). American Gap Association National Alumni Survey. In Gap Year Association.
  2. Data & Benefits – Gap Year Association. (n.d.).
  3. Shellenbarger, S. (2010, December 29). More Students Taking “Gap Year” Before College. WSJ.

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