Embarking on a journey of self-discovery and growth, high school graduates can truly benefit from taking a gap year.
At NOLS, we understand the transformative power of these experiences, as they enable students to step out of their comfort zones, immerse themselves in new environments, and explore their potential.
Gap years not only foster personal awareness and resilience, but they can also enhance academic performance and career readiness.
With a diverse array of gap year programs available, including volunteer, language immersion, adventure, cultural exchange, internship, and academic options, high school graduates have the opportunity to customize their journey and make lasting memories.
Photo by Dana Sykora
Benefits of Taking a Gap Year After High School
Personal Awareness and Professional Growth
Taking a gap year after high school can offer numerous benefits for personal and professional growth.
By stepping outside of their comfort zones and exploring new environments and cultures, students can gain a better understanding of themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
This can lead to increased self-awareness, confidence, and resilience, all of which are valuable qualities in any personal or professional setting.
Gap year alumni attest to the transformational nature of their experiences:
"It wasn’t until I took a semester with NOLS that I realized what I wanted to do with my life," says Sarah, a NOLS alumna. "I went to Tanzania after high school and it completely changed my perspective on the world and my own capabilities.The program's emphasis on the Leave No Trace minimum-impact approach was truly eye-opening. I learned how to respect and preserve the natural world in ways that make a tangible impact, and now I’m studying environmental conservation. I came back feeling more confident and focused, and to be honest I might not have even gone to college if it wasn’t for this experience and all of the amazing people I met through NOLS."
Taking a gap year doesn't mean giving up on academics altogether. In fact, many gap year programs offer opportunities to earn college credits or prepare for further academic pursuits.
By taking classes or participating in academic programs during a gap year, students can get a head start on their college education and gain valuable knowledge and skills before entering college.
According to a study by the American Gap Association, gap year participants had higher GPAs, were more likely to graduate on time, and were more satisfied with their overall college experience than non-participants.
Taking a gap year can also offer valuable benefits for a student’s professional future.
By gaining new skills and experiences, exploring different career paths, and building professional networks during a gap year, students can become more competitive and better prepared for the job market after graduation.
The Gap Year Association reports that more than 90% of gap year participants reported that their experience helped them develop "critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills," all of which are valuable for any career path.
Photo by Shannon Wing
Types of Gap Year Programs for High School Graduates
If you're considering a gap year after high school, there are many different types of programs to choose from, depending on your interests and goals. Here are a few of the most popular types of gap year programs for high school graduates:
Volunteer programs offer opportunities to engage in service work and make a difference in local or global communities. Many volunteer programs involve working with nonprofits, schools, or community organizations to address issues like poverty, environmental conservation, or public health.
Language Immersion Programs
Want to learn a new language or improve existing language skills by living and studying in a foreign country? These programs often involve homestays with local families and intensive language classes. For high school students who plan to study a foreign language in college, a gap year language immersion program provides an excellent foundation.
Adventure and Outdoor Programs
Adventure and outdoor programs give you the chance to explore nature and develop outdoor skills like camping, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, or kayaking. These programs are a great way to challenge yourself physically and mentally, build confidence, and develop strong leadership skills.
Cultural Exchange Programs
Have you ever dreamed of experiencing a new culture by living with a host family, attending school, and participating in unfamiliar cultural activities? These programs can help you gain a deeper understanding of different cultures and perspectives.
Internship and Work Experience Programs
Internship and work experience programs give you a chance to gain practical work experience in a variety of fields, from business to healthcare to education. These programs can be a great way to build your resume and gain valuable skills and contacts in your field of interest.
Academic programs offer opportunities to take classes, earn college credits, or prepare for further academic pursuits during a gap year. These programs can be a great way to get a head start on your college education and gain valuable knowledge and skills.
- Taking a gap year after high school can offer numerous benefits for personal and professional growth, academic performance, and career readiness.
- Each gap year program comes in many different types, including volunteer programs, language immersion programs, adventure and outdoor programs, cultural exchange programs, internship and work experience programs, and academic programs.
- Choosing the right gap year program depends on your interests and goals.
- Many gap year programs offer opportunities for experiential learning, cultural immersion, and personal growth, making them an excellent fit for high school graduates who want to take a year to explore and discover themselves before starting college or their careers.
Photo by Lynn Petzold
Choosing the Right Gap Year Program for You
With so many different types of gap years available, it can be challenging to choose the right one for you. Here are a few factors to consider when selecting a program:
Personal Interests and Goals
First and foremost, consider your personal interests and goals. What do you want to gain from your gap year experience? Are you interested in exploring a new culture, gaining work experience, or improving your language skills? Consider your personal goals and interests when researching and selecting a program.
Budget and Financial Considerations
Each gap year can vary widely in cost, from free volunteer programs to expensive language immersion programs. Consider your budget and financial situation when selecting a program, and be sure to factor in additional costs like airfare, insurance, and living expenses.
Safety and Security
When traveling or living abroad, safety and security are always a top priority. Research the safety record of any program you're considering and take necessary precautions to ensure your safety, such as getting travel insurance and avoiding dangerous areas.
Program Length and Structure
Gap year programs can range from a few weeks to a full year, and can vary in structure from structured classroom learning to independent travel. Consider the length and structure of any program you're considering, and think about whether it aligns with your personal goals and interests.
Photo by Betsy Winston
Accommodations and Amenities
Finally, consider the accommodations and amenities offered by any program you're considering. Will you be living with a host family or in a dormitory? What kind of meals and transportation are provided? Consider these factors when selecting a program to ensure that you're comfortable and well-supported during your gap year experience.
Testimonials from NOLS Alumni
Still not convinced that a gap year after high school is right for you? Here are a few testimonials from NOLS alumni who took gap years and found them to be transformative experiences:
"I took a gap year after high school and spent half of it backpacking in Patagonia," says Diego. "It was the best decision I ever made. I gained so much confidence and independence while trying out new skills like sea kayaking. The program helped me gain leadership and wilderness survival skills, and I also discovered a passion for environmental conservation that I've pursued ever since."
"I participated in a NOLS semester in the Rockies before starting college," says Maria. "It was an incredible experience that challenged me in ways I never thought possible. I gained so much confidence. You really get to see how important teamwork is and survival skills are. Those skills have helped me so much in both my personal life and working on a team at school and professionally."
"I took a gap year with NOLS and spent a semester studying abroad in Mexico," says Emily. "Getting to learn and experience more of the local culture was amazing. I’m really grateful for all of the people I got to meet. Also, I knew I wanted to study Spanish in college, but what I didn’t know is how much the language immersion aspect of this program would help me with my language skills. I came back feeling more confident, self-aware, and culturally aware, and I think that experience has helped me in every aspect of my life since then.”
Find the Right Gap Year Program for You
Taking a gap year after high school can be a valuable and transformative experience that offers a range of personal, professional, and academic benefits.
Whether you're interested in volunteering, exploring new cultures, gaining work experience, or preparing for further academic pursuits, there are many different types of gap year programs to choose from. By taking the time to research and select the right program for you, you can gain new skills and experiences, develop personal and professional networks, and become better prepared for future academic and career pursuits.
NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.