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Gap Year Programs

The Gap Year Pathway may be an option for students who want to experience a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to a career or postsecondary education in order to deepen their practical, professional, and personal awareness.

Students who choose the Gap Year Pathway must submit an acceptance letter as evidence of their plan to meet the Learn.Plan.Succeed. graduation requirement.

During a gap year, students take time away from formal education to engage in planned activities that can help them decide what they want to do with their future. While students must define a plan for their gap year to meet the Learn.Plan.Succeed. requirement, they can allow flexibility in their plan to pursue new areas of interest that may arise.

Types of Gap Year Activities

Gap year activities vary widely, depending on the student's interests, what he or she wants to accomplish, and other factors. Primary types of gap year activities include:

  • Volunteer/Service: Experiences that help students understand interdependence and allow them to give back
  • Career Exploration/Internship: Real-world work experiences that help students decide on a future course of study or career
  • Social Change: Experiences that enable students to participate in efforts to improve communities

The gap year purpose Venn diagram is described as having four main sections, with overlapping fields that all intersect to give purpose. The four main sections and their overlaps are as follows: find that which you love and that which the world needs, which will give you a mission. Between what the world needs and that which you can be paid for will give you vocation. Between getting paid and that which you are good at will give you a profession. Finally, between being good at something and finding something you love will give you passion. 

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, 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

What students do during a gap year may depend on budget restrictions and how much structure and support the student desires. Here are some options:

  • Engage in self-directed activities
  • Enroll in a formal gap year program
  • Travel

Students who opt for a gap year should also think about where college fits in their plan. Some colleges offer built-in gap year programs, so students can apply for admission to a gap year program at the same time they are applying for college admission.

Next Steps

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

  1. Gather information
    Talk to your school counselor and family members early in your gap year planning process to get help identifying core priorities, resources, and learning outcomes.
  2. Define your goals
    Consider what you want to achieve, learn, and experience during your gap year.
  3. Define your activities
    Decide where you will go and what you will do. If you want to travel, determine where you will live.
  4. Manage college applications
    Decide when you will submit college applications and confirm enrollment deferral policies wherever you apply.
  5. Start early
    The earlier you start, the more time you have to research program options and submit applications for scholarships and grants.

Office of College and Career Success

School Counseling and Postsecondary Advising


773-553-3543 (Fax)

42 W. Madison St.
Chicago, IL 60602