Tips for Planning a Successful Gap Year

I absolutely love the concept of a gap year. Though I didn’t take one at the start of my undergraduate studies, I did before my doctoral studies. And I am very grateful that I did. Taking time off provided me with the opportunity to think about and discover my true passion.

After I graduated from high school, I went straight to university. Then I started graduate school for my master’s degree once I completed my undergraduate studies. I changed my major several times throughout the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. I was a very focused student, so I always got good grades. But I didn’t fully enjoy my studies. I was simply doing what I needed to do in order to pass.

After completing my master’s degree, my plan was to start my doctoral studies in the upcoming fall semester. However, I experienced some family issues that delayed my plans to start my doctorate degree. So, I decided to take a year off so that I could focus on my personal situation.

And I am very grateful that I did. After taking time off, I was able to self-reflect and truly examine my career goals. I ended up changing my major after having the opportunity to travel to and live in Africa. When I re-started my studies, I was truly focused on what I was learning. I no longer went through the motions just to get a good grade. Instead, I was wholeheartedly engaged in my educational experiences.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year(s) is when a student takes some time away from their studies with the intent to continue at a later point. Gap years are usually intentional and are often taken between the transition from high school to college.

However, a student may end up taking a gap year for a number of reasons, including health concerns, personal/family emergencies, funding issues, mandatory military service, etc. Likewise, a student can take a gap year(s) in between undergraduate and graduate studies. Also, it can be done during any other interval of their educational journey.

What is a Successful Gap Year?

I define a successful gap year(s) as time spent defining and refining one’s career goals and objectives for maximum effectiveness. This means that when an individual enters or re-enters college, they are focused and are able to efficiently achieve their career goals.

Efficient goal achievement ultimately means that the individual is able to finish college in a timely manner. Additionally, they can acquire effective career skills without taking too many twists and turns along the way.

What Should You Do During a Gap Year?

In order to have a successful gap year, it is important to plan and execute your plan of action properly. An intentional gap year should be about exploration and adventure on many levels. It should not be an afterthought or just another year of doing mundane things. So in order for your gap year to be successful, you should do the following.

Set Goals

If you have already made up your mind to take a gap year, you should set solid and realistic goals. Don’t let life just happen. Determine your purpose for taking a gap year and build your goals around that mission.

For instance, if you plan to discover your true career passion, make plans to explore different career paths. This may include any of the following:

  • Completing internships or apprenticeships
  • Interviewing professionals from fields that interest you
  • Reading books or watching videos about the career field

Even if simply plan to take a break from your studies, make plans for that as well. Loafing around for a year is probably not going to be helpful for you when you return to your studies. In fact, being apathetic during this time will probably cause you to change your mind about your studies altogether. So your break can and should be filled with exploration – even if you don’t want to focus on your career during your gap year.


Traveling has traditionally been the cornerstone of gap year experiences. In fact, this is what the average person thinks of when they hear the phrase gap year experience. While travel is not mandatory during a gap year, it is probably one of the most effective ways to enjoy it.

Travel is an educator in and of itself. There is something about exploring new cultures and meeting people that has the ability to change you at your core. Travel experiences help you grow at a much faster pace than you normally would in your day-to-day life.

Gap-year travel experiences don’t have to involve extensive international trips to Africa, Asia, Europe, etc. But such destinations can certainly help broaden your perspective in tremendous ways. You can have a successful gap year experience by traveling within your state or throughout the U.S. There are plenty of culturally diverse experiences to be had right in your own backyard. So whatever the size of your budget or your courage, you should make plans to travel at some point.


Take time to journal your gap year experiences throughout the year. You can maintain a written or video journal in which you catalog your experiences and check in with yourself. A year can go by quickly. And if you are not careful, you can easily forget about some of the more transformative parts of your journey.

You can set a journaling schedule to make this process easier and more intuitive. Strategically planning your journal categories may be helpful for keeping your thoughts more organized. You can even mix and match the type of journaling that you engage in. For instance, writing tends to be a more intimate process that allows you to think deeply. But it can also be tedious and time-consuming, especially when you have a lot of thoughts to catalog.

So you can also create vlogs of your journey. This may be done to record your private innermost thoughts about something. Or it could be done to capture integral parts of your career exploration or travel experiences. There is no need to publish your vlogs to an online video-sharing platform like YouTube. You can simply keep them stored away for your own personal use.

Journaling helps you self-reflect. You will obviously be self-reflecting at the moment that you record your thoughts or experiences. But journaling is also a vital part of long-term self-reflection processes. For instance, you can read your journal or watch your vlogs at the conclusion of your gap year experience. This will give you a better sense of how you have changed and who you have become.


A gap year is an exciting time for many students, whether they are taking a break from studies or embarking on a new adventure. Planning a successful gap year requires careful consideration of the goals and objectives that you want to achieve during your time away. With proper planning and preparation, you can make sure that your gap year is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

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