Radical Sabbatical

an explanation on gap years and their potential value for students


Olivia Theaker

Whether it be through travel, volunteering, work/internships, or even language or culture immersion, gap years can provide students with education they may never receive in a classroom.

Between scheduling for next year’s classes and graduation coming up around the corner, students are being pressed into thinking about their future more and more. Some are setting themselves up for a four-year school or a community college while others may be preparing for a career right out of high school. However, after quarantine, and a skip in the usual track of academic progression and life experience in general, some students may be leaning toward the idea of taking a gap year. A gap year may be a viable option for those interested in reclaiming some lost experience and perspective of future goals before jumping into the future. This experimental year is usually taken after high school graduation or while attending college. It can provide an outlet for learning through means other than traditional education such as volunteering, travel, work/internships, language or culture immersion, and more. 

How can you decide if a gap year is the right option for you? Goabroad.com advises that students ask themselves the following questions before deciding if a gap year may be the best choice for them. 

  1.  Am I running from something or running to something?
  2.  Do I have a goal in mind?
  3.  Am I dreading college?
  4.  Is “keeping up” with my friends important to me?
  5.  Am I good at self-motivating?
  6.  Will a gap year help with my dreams?
  7.  Do I have the support I need?
  8.  Am I ready to do the research?
  9. What will my gap year look like?

Click here to read more about why each of these questions is so important to consider.

Below are some links you may find useful in your research of gap years as well as a first-hand account from an Arroyo Grande high school (AGHS) student planning on taking a gap year next year. 

General Information:

What to do during a gap year:

Selecting a gap year program:

How to pay for your gap year:

One AGHS student is looking to take a gap year to learn more about themselves and what they may want to choose as a future career.

“Before you go to college, it’s nice to have a sort of general idea of what drives you. I want to see other experiences, maybe work at a place I never thought I would try to work.”

There are endless possibilities for what one can focus on during a gap year, but this student hopes to use travel, volunteering, and work to gain more knowledge about what they enjoy doing and where they enjoy living. 

“I come from a union family. There’s a lot of trade stuff that I might be interested in and a lot of volunteer opportunities… I really want to go visit the global south, like Hanoi, Vietnam and South America. They have a lot less COVID cases than countries like we do, and more industrialized countries… I’d really like to go somewhere I haven’t really seen before, like a whole different landscape.”

COVID-19 has not only influenced where this student may want to go but also pushed them toward considering a year away from college in order to avoid paying tuition for online classes. 

“Because of COVID, I don’t really want to do this online stuff. I don’t want to pay tuition to take a zoom class.”

If other students are looking to wait until colleges fully reopen to apply, a gap year may be a worthwhile option to consider in the meantime.

This AGHS pupil hopes to take advantage of the opportunity they have to take a gap year and use it to learn in a way they haven’t experienced before.

“[I hope to get] a perspective change, a change of scenery. I don’t think education comes directly from a textbook or a lecture. I think it’s also something you have to experience. A lot of people are forced to be in one area their whole life and it’s very sad, but I don’t have to be. So I feel like I should definitely seize that opportunity because that’s a real privilege.”

They advise that people look at their situation and make the decision for themselves because while gap years are a great opportunity, everyone has a different idea of their future and a gap year may not work for everyone. 

“I think that when you spend 12 years doing school every single year, it does train you. I don’t think a gap year is probably for everyone. I think this is something you have to figure out on your own. It also doesn’t have to be like directly before college. Some people go to college decades after they first go because of different reasons, so I think it varies from person to person.”

Overall, this student is looking forward to experimenting with what a gap year has to offer and believes most of the reporting on the gap year should come after they’ve had the experience.

“I think there’s not a whole lot to say now. I think there’s a lot more to learn. There’ll be a lot more to say after my year is over.”