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What’s a Gap Year Again?

What’s a Gap Year Again?

Gap Year

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I wanted to use this space to jump into the weeds of what exactly a Gap Year is. I’ve written a few posts about my Gap Year on the blog, but I’ve never provided any satisfying definition of what exactly a Gap year is. And a lot of the online world can’t seem to agree either.

It might seem obvious-but gap years are such a foreign element to American culture that I hear the term get thrown around a lot incorrectly.

So, let’s jump right in, shall we??

The Merriam-Webster Definition of a Gap Year

“A one-year hiatus from academic studies to allow for nonacademic activities.” 

Thoughts on this definition: I like the use of the word hiatus. Snaps for Merriam-Webster.

Merriam-Webster also gives us a time frame. Gap years are only one year. Which makes sense with the term gap year. If it’s lasted more than a year, you’re doing something else with your life.

We also see the phrase “nonacademic activities” which is good to know. Not attending college and taking one or two classes in your hometown isn’t related since there are academics involved.

But Merriam-Webster leaves a lot for the brain to wonder and dwell on. Which leads us to…

The Urban Dictionary Definition of a Gap Year

  1. A year off between high school and college/university
  2. A year between graduating high school and beginning university/college typically spent traveling or working

Beyond lacking a certain offensive trait I’ve come to know in urban dictionary, this site also mentions the UK as a popular place for people to take gap years. And it provides us with some more context than Merriam-Webster. Gap years take place after high school and before college. And they’re typically spent traveling or working.

Why the UK?

After a bunch of Internet prowling I found that gap years (maybe) started in the UK when students had an 8-month break between finals and university. So, a lot of them worked or traveled.

More people in the UK and Europe in general take gap years than US students. Over 5% of UK students in 2012 deferred their college acceptance compared to just over 1% of American students in 2011. (Source)

There’s a myriad of reasons for this but we won’t go into them today. Or maybe never because who cares?? (Just kidding!)

So far we’ve learned that gap years last only one year. They’re a break from academics. They’re taken between high school and college. And people generally travel or work on their gap years. Okay great.

But what exactly does one do on a gap year?

  1. Travel-Speaking from personal experience here, I traveled on my gap year. I went to four different countries, met a ton of new people, and had a lot of fun.
  2. Volunteer-I also volunteered during my gap year! As did one of my friends in China. We volunteered at an English-speaking school. And still had the time of our lives exploring southern China. I know someone who did a year-long mission trip in Indonesia on his year and loved it.
  3. Intern-I’ve seen some blogs where the person who took a gap year interned and learned a language. This is like my study abroad experience and would be a great idea for a gap year!
  4. Work-I also worked. But in Australia. I had to fund my trip somehow!
  5. Learn a new language-This is often supplemented with volunteering or interning but a lot of young gap year takers work on improving a language skill as well!

Deferred acceptance

Contrary to popular (mis)belief, you do go to college after a gap year. You don’t end up never coming back. A gap year is insightful and gives perspective to why college is important! But enough of that. I’m going to argue that gap years are intentional.

People decide that they want to go to school. Often, they apply and get into school and then defer their acceptance. The point is, gap years are an intentional break but the person taking a gap year knows they are going to go to college once their year is up.

What’s a gap year again?

After a long search of the internet and the rise of the trend of gap years and who takes them and Malia Obama, here’s the gap year criteria:

  1. One year long
  2. After high school and before college
  3. Typically, abroad in some capacity
  4. Intentional break from academics

And there you have it. The gap year! Use this post to start up convos on gap years or jumpstart more research. Not to be preachy or an online professor, but I wanted to establish a consensus definition of what exactly a gap year is before delving into topics further. Which, speaking of, if you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns about gap years, leave them here! I want to know your thoughts!

Your Turn: Do you think this definition works for a gap year? Or does gap year mean something different to you? Spill!

About the author

I got my first taste of long-term travel when I took a gap year before beginning college. I lived and worked in Australia in one of the most transformative years of my life. Like many others, I caught the wanderlust bug and now I'm always busy adding to my bucketlist. Besides traveling, I'm into hiking and photography. I'm currently finishing up my senior year in college and planning my next big adventure!