Launch Into The Future

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Office of College and Career Success
School Counseling and Postsecondary Advising
42 W. Madison St., 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60602



Gap Year Program

A gap year is a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to a career or postsecondary education in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.

Some Types of Experiences

  • Volunteer/service (to understand interdependence)
  • Career exploration/internship (to understand what your college major might be like in the real world)
  • Social change (allowing some space to explore the unknown is what makes a “gap year”)
Purpose graphic that includes passion, mission, profession, and vocation.

Don’t think of a gap year as a “break.” Consider how taking a gap year will support your efforts to prepare for and to inform the next steps in your life journey. Among the many benefits of taking a gap year are becoming a more well-rounded individual and finding purpose. Experts argue that your purpose, calling, dream job, point of happiness, pathway, or reason for being can be found where these four elements meet: (1) what you’re good at, (2) what you love, (3) what the world needs, and (4) that for which someone will pay you. To learn more about this conception, research Ikigai, a Japanese concept about the meaning of life. Your ikigai - your purpose - lies at the center of the interconnection of passion, mission, vocation, and profession.

How to Pursue This Pathway

It is ultimately about what makes sense for you. The logistics of taking a gap year include deciding whether you'll be:

  • planning your activities independently; or
  • joining a gap year program.

Decisions about the approach to and logistics of a Gap Year mostly come down to budget and how much structure and support you desire. You will also need to decide where, and if, college applications fit into your plan.

NOTE: Some colleges have gap year or bridge year programs built in, so when you apply to a college, you can also apply for their programs.

Next Steps

If a gap year program is a postsecondary option that interests you, consider taking the next steps:

  • Talk to people; don’t do this alone! Talk to your school counselor and family early on about your plan. They can help you identify core priorities, resources, and learning outcomes.
  • Make a list of goals you would like to achieve, skills you want to learn, and experiences you want to have.
  • Decide on where to go and what to do.
  • Tackle the logistics. Consider implications for college after a gap year, and those of your actual gap year too.
  • Start planning and budgeting early! The earlier you start, the more time you have to research, apply for scholarships and grants, and find the right program at the right cost for you.

Sources of Information

In general, information published by these sources is both current and reliable.

  • Gap Year Checklist
  • Planning Guide for Gap Year - Advice gathered from former gap year students with resources from the experts. This tools is made available by GapYear Association.
  • Year On - Provides educational programs for young adults who are looking to gain confidence, clarity, and direction in their next steps. They currently have two program offerings: Year Experience and Semester Experience.
  • Global Citizen – Learn about the systemic causes of extreme poverty, take action on those issues, and earn rewards for actions — as part of a global community committed to lasting change.
  • USA Gap Year Fairs - Each year, the Go Overseas team coordinates about 40 USA Gap Year Fairs across the country to connect students, parents, and educators with gap year program providers from all over the world.
  • Gap Year Programs - Gap Year program providers highlighted by Gap Year Overseas.
  • Gap Year Association - A national nonprofit working to coordinate the growing Gap Year Movement.
  • Service Year Alliance - An organization relentlessly pursuing a bold vision — making a year of paid, full-time service — a service year — a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans.
  • Serve Illinois - Promotes and supports community service in public and private programs to meet the needs of Illinois citizens, to stimulate new volunteerism and community service initiatives and partnerships, and to serve as a resource and advocate within the Department of Public Health for community service agencies, volunteers, and programs which utilize State and private volunteers.
  • AmeriCorps - Places thousands of people into intensive service positions where they learn valuable skills, earn money for education, and develop a strong sense of civic responsibility.
  • Employers of National Service - Employers of National Service connects AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni with employers from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
  • Chicagoland Career Pathways - A free and open website where young adults and their guides (parents, teachers, counselors, mentors) across Chicagoland can learn about free or low-cost training and certification programs that can lead to rewarding employment. The directory is searchable by career field, eligibility requirements, certification/credential, location, and more. The directory is a resource for adults finishing GED programs as well.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - This form is used to apply for federal financial aid for college, career schools, or grad school.
  • FSA ID - A username and password that gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems and can serve as your legal signature. Only create an FSA ID using your own personal information and for your own exclusive use.
  • FSA Pubs - The office of Federal Student Aid provides publications, fact sheets, online tools, and other resources to help you prepare and pay for college or career school. Resources are grouped by topics.
  • Illinois Postsecondary Handbook - A reference source produced by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) to provide general admission and financial aid information about Illinois postsecondary institutions. Please check with each institution for exact costs.
  • Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) - The state’s college access and financial aid agency.
  • Naviance for CPS - A tool that enables students in grades 6 through 12 to conduct comprehensive college and career planning. Use your CPS username and password to login.
  • Retention of Illinois Students & Equity (RISE) Act - Effective January 2020, this RISE Act permits state aid to be awarded to persons who are not otherwise eligible for federal financial aid, including, but not limited to transgender students and noncitizen students who have not obtained lawful US permanent residence.
  • SAT - Find out tests dates and information on what kinds of questions you’ll see and what the test measures.
  • CPS Academic Works - Complete the General Application to begin reviewing scholarship applications.
  • CPS Scholarship Alert Workbook - Search for scholarships.

Page Last Modified on Monday, February 03, 2020