Making the Most of a Gap Year

March 22, 2023
College Admissions

The nonprofit Gap Year Organization defines a gap year as a “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.” The American Gap Association defines a gap year as “a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers. Typically these are achieved by a combination of traveling, volunteering, interning, or working.” As these definitions suggests, taking a gap year before starting college can be an excellent way to explore your interests, gain new experiences, deepen your knowledge, and prepare yourself for the challenges of college life. In this blog post, we offer a few tips on how to make the most of your gap year experience.

Set clear goals

Before starting your gap year, be sure to take some time to reflect on what you hope to achieve during this period. What kind of experiences do you want to have? What kinds of skills do you want to develop? What kind of knowledge do you want to gain? Make a list of goals and prioritize them based on what is most important to you. This will help you stay focused and make the most of your gap year.

Plan ahead

Once you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish during your gap year, begin planning how you will achieve those goals. This might involve finding internships or volunteer opportunities, researching travel options, or developing a study plan for a specific subject. Working with an organization that helps students plan and coordinate gap year activities can help you with this process. There are many programs that are designed specifically for gap year students that can offer a structured, educational experience that combines travel, volunteer work, and academic coursework. At AtomicMind, for example, we have extensive experience with helping students plan memorable, fulfilling, enriching gap years.

Try something new

Use your gap year as an opportunity to explore interests for which you may not have had time during high school. Use this period to broaden your horizons and develop new skills—anything from woodworking to photography to baking to playing an instrument. Consider taking classes, diving into instructional texts, watching YouTube tutorials, or finding a mentor to help guide you in your learning. Many students who take a gap year spend time in nature, often under the guidance of a wilderness program, learning survival skills and developing a deeper appreciation for the environment. This can be an excellent way to gain new perspectives and challenge yourself in ways that you never thought possible. Similarly, spending time working on a farm can be a great way to learn about sustainable agriculture, gain work experience, develop new skills, and learn about practices that are good for both people and the environment. Or you could use your gap year as an opportunity to learn a new language, either one that you think would be useful in your future career or simply one in which you have always been interested. Consider taking classes, using language learning apps, or finding a language exchange partner.

Travel abroad

Traveling internationally during your gap year can be a great opportunity to experience new cultures, learn new languages, and gain new perspectives. Whether you choose to backpack through Europe or volunteer in a developing country, travel can be a transformative experience that will help you grow as a person. Many countries have programs that allow students to teach English to non-native speakers. This can be a great opportunity to learn about a new culture and develop teaching skills that will be useful in college and beyond. In addition, many organizations offer cultural exchange programs that allow students to live with a host family and learn about a new culture. This can be an excellent way to gain insight into the culture and, in doing so, develop a deeper understanding of the world.


Volunteering during your gap year can be an excellent way to gain experience, develop skills, and give back to your community. Look for opportunities to volunteer in fields that are of particular interest to you, such as environmental conservation, education, or healthcare. If you are interested in politics, consider volunteering for a political campaign during your gap year. This can be an excellent way to learn about the political process and promote causes that are important to you. There are a number of organizations that can help you plan and participate in service projects around the world—anything from building schools in underserved communities to working on environmental conservation projects. By engaging in such activities, you can use your gap year to make a positive difference in the world.

Gain work experience

Working during your gap year can be a great way to gain knowledge of a particular field and develop skills in that field—all while saving money for college. Look for internships or part-time jobs in fields about which you are passionate and be open to learning new things. You might even use your gap year as an opportunity to start a business or pursue an entrepreneurial project that is particularly compelling to you—anything from a tutoring company to an online store to a social media consulting firm. In this way, you can use your gap year to learn about business and develop your entrepreneurial skills.

Develop a study plan

If there are subjects that you want to study before starting college, use your gap year to develop and implement a study plan. This might involve taking online classes, working with a tutor, or self-studying using textbooks and other resources. Interested in a pre-med track? Study anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. Thinking about majoring in computer science? Learn a new programming language or immerse yourself in the study of database creation and management. Whatever the focus of your academic efforts, following a comprehensive study plan will help you end your gap year with a much greater store of knowledge than when you started it—an asset that will, without a doubt, be extremely helpful during your college years.


Use your gap year as an opportunity to meet new people and expand your professional network. Attend conferences, join professional organizations, and connect with people in fields that interest you. These connections could be valuable not only in college but also further in the future, when you are applying for jobs or internships.


At the end of your gap year, take time to reflect on your experiences. What knowledge did you gain? What skills did you develop? What were your successes and challenges? What are you especially glad that you did? What would you have done differently? Use this information to help guide your future decisions and goals.

Be open to change

Finally, be open to change and embrace new experiences. Your gap year may not go exactly as planned, but that's okay. Use this time to be adventurous, take risks, and learn from your experiences.

A gap year can be a valuable and transformative experience if you approach it with intention and focus. Use this time to explore your interests, gain new knowledge and skills, and prepare yourself for the challenges of college life. With careful planning and a willingness to take risks, you can make the most of your gap year and set yourself up for success in college and beyond.