Gap Year Experiences

There’s a new-to-me phenomenon in education that I’m all shook up over (in a good way). I’m seeing more and more that high school seniors are taking a “gap year” between high school graduation and college to travel and/or work abroad. I couldn’t be more in love with this idea. The majority of students who take advantage of a gap year experience report that the two main reasons they do so are burnout from the competitive pressures of high school and the desire to find out more about themselves. When I was a high school senior, this wasn’t really a socially accepted or parent accepted notion. You went straight from high school to college, and that’s just what you did. Looking back, I think so many kids could have benefitted from a year off to figure out where they want to go in life and what they want to do with their time for the long haul.

The American Gap Association (Who knew there was such an organization, right?) reports that the three highest rated outcomes of a gap year are:

  • Gaining “a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me”
  •  Giving students “a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living” 
  • Providing students with “additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major”

Missionary and blogger Seth Barnes says that sending his two oldest children on World Race’s gap year experience is “one of the best things we ever did to help them lead full lives and make their faith their own.” He says further, “(A gap year) introduces you to the person that God wants you to be. You’ll learn how God wants to use that to live the life he created you for.”

My friend Melissa, whose beautiful 18 year old daughter Meredith is also participating in the World Race Gap Year program says, “I personally feel that traveling to other cultures cannot be substituted with the class room. Young people need to see that the way we live is not the only way; the way we worship is not the only way. We tend to want to stay in our bubble and not venture out, but that is not Biblical, and to me, tends to make a person even more self-centered instead of other-centered. Meredith has seen unspeakable evil, but she has also seen incredible joy in hardships (like the typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, and people who praise God for what little they have while living in squalor). You cannot duplicate that experience just going straight to college.” Meredith’s gap year experience has taken her to three countries in nine months to work with people in poverty. She’s been to Honduras, the Philippines, and Botswana.

The American Gap Association reports that students participating in a gap year experience gain a better ability to focus on academics once they returned to college. “Taking a 1-year break between high school and university allows motivation for and interest in study to be renewed.” Not only do students do well in school, but they also fare better after graduation. Students who participate in a gap year experience are overwhelmingly more satisfied with their careers after college. Upon further questioning, participants explained that by participating in a gap year in which they saw more of the world and the problems people face, their focus became less self-centered and more others-centered. As a result, the careers they chose were ones that brought great satisfaction because they were more geared toward serving other people.

Are there risks to taking a gap year? Of course. My friend Melissa says about her daughter, “The biggest risk to me is that the student may not wish to pursue higher ed afterward. But that is with my mama hat on, and my fear of the unknown future. Of course, I think that Meredith needs an education so that she has skills to offer on the mission field when she returns. That is not necessarily God’s path for her, however.”

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Have you or your children taken a gap year? If so, what was your experience like? Benefits or risks? Share!


  1. Hey! Thanks for the info. So glad to know about the association. I want to do this, but my husband is not on board. Helps to have more info! The only person I hear talk about it is SWB. She did several good posts years ago when her oldest did a gap year. Does the association list program sites?

    • Ashley Mills Hill says

      Ging, unfortunately formal gap year programs are few and far between. The World Race Gap Year program that my friend did seems to be one of the most organized and well-run. They have an “11 countries in 11 months” program, and then the “3 countries in 9 months” program that Meredith did, which allows students to more fully immerse themselves in the culture and ministry in each country. Since gap year experiences are just emerging in the US, look for more programs to pop up over the next few years.

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