Gap years. The media is buzzing about them since Malia Obama took one last year. Still have some questions, though?


But is a Gap Year really for me?

Do you want a break from school? Want to gain some perspective before starting your career? Do you like to learn from experience? Are you looking for more direction in your life? Do you want to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Still trying to figure out your major or career? Are you hoping to gain more confidence? Do you want to learn how to travel? Are you interested in things you can’t learn in a classroom? Are you curious about other cultures? Do you want to give back? Feeling up for an adventure?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, a Gap Year is a great way to give yourself the time, space, and experience you desire. Every student does a gap year for a different reason and what they get from the experience also varies. Despite these differences, all of our alumni are changed college students, new professionals, and citizens/humans as a result of their time with Pacific Discovery.

Why take a Gap Year?

Research shows numerous and important benefits of taking a Gap Year. Based on that data, here are some important reasons to consider a Gap Year with Pacific Discovery.

  • You’ll learn and grow. In a recent survey of Gap Year alumni, the highest rated outcomes of Gap Years were: (1) “a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me”; (2) “a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living” and (3) “skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major”.
  • It’s cost effective. The average time it takes for Gap Year students to complete college is 4 years. National trends show that, of incoming students in 2007, 60% took 6 years to graduate. This is often due to switching major or switching college. Those two extra years on campus increases debt by 70%. The early investment in a Gap Year can help clarify passion and direction and pay off with a more focused track through college.
  • You’ll be better for it. Big statement, we know. The survey found impressive levels of: job satisfaction (86%); civic engagement (63%); and community service (89%). These are all significantly higher than national averages. We think happy workers who vote and volunteer, help the world be better (Haigler & Nelson, independent study of 280 Gap Year students).
  • You’ll help set the trend. Harvard University has seen a 33% increase in students taking a Gap Year in the past decade. With the crisis in higher education, we think Gap Year is a part of the solution and is on its way to becoming the new normal. Join the movement.
  • Your college likes the idea. American colleges and universities understand the value of a Gap Year. Ninety-eight percent of universities and colleges will honor a request for deferred enrollment if it is for you to do a Gap Year program (see step 4 below for more). Some schools— including Princeton, Middlebury, Colorado College, and University of North Carolina— encourage and at times require admitted students to take one. It’s because they know the value it brings to your on-campus engagement (Gap Year Association).
  • Employers dig it too. Eighty-eight percent of Gap Year graduates report that their Gap Year significantly added to their employability according to one survey (Milkround Graduate Recruitment Gap Year Survey).
  • It’s refreshing. Whether you’ve just finished the rigors of high school and the college application process, are mid-way through university and feeling like you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing, or a recent graduate looking for a break, a Gap Year can be great, giving you the space to reflect, discover yourself and figure out what you stand for.  It builds your independence, your resilience, and a revived or discovered passion and purpose.
  • You’ll learn to travel in a safe environment. A Gap Year with Pacific Discovery provides a great structure for you to travel with the safety of experienced instructors and depth of long-standing community partners. Following your nine-weeks with us, you can build on those new skills by traveling independently for your remaining semester/year. We support you in this by offering three-week independent extensions. Also, see step 2 below for more ideas on structuring a full year off.
  • You’ll join an awesome community of people. When you join a Pacific Discovery program, you become a part of a community of globally minded travelers. Our alumni stay in touch, couch surf at one another’s homes, and go on to create important change towards social justice and planetary wellness. Want to hear it directly from them? See what previous students have said about the program and its impact on them here.


How do I plan a Gap Year?

Step 1: Reflect— who, what, where, why

There are a lot of things to think about in choosing a program. Knowing why you are taking a Gap Year and what you hope to get out of it will help narrow down what programs you consider. Some people make this decision around location, while others look for program structure and types of opportunities (volunteer placements, homestays, adventure activities, or organizational focus). Additionally, factoring in the amount of time you have and what your budget is can help narrow down your options. The American Gap Association offers further resources on gap year planning and features accredited organizations that provide Gap Year Programs.

Step 2: Structure your year

Once you have a sense of how long you would like to travel for, how much of that time you want to be structured, and what your budget is, you can begin to plan out your gap. Because our programs are 4 and 9 weeks long, there are a lot of creative ways to make Pacific Discovery a part of your experience.

Our semester programs are 9-weeks duration. This leaves some time at the end of our programs to take advantage of an extension option or travel independently before the end of an academic semester.

4-6 months

Our summer and semester programs are designed so that you can combine them to create an incredible Gap Year experience with about a month of independent travel in between your programs. If you want to stretch it out a bit longer, we can help you organize a longer-term volunteer placement, paid employment (depending on where you want to go), or make suggestions for independent travel plans following the semester.


To take a full year, many students choose the following breakdown of their time:

  • Summer: Work over the summer to save money to put towards your Gap Year.
  • Fall Semester: Join one of our Fall Semesters. It’s great to start your gap year with a structured experience. At the end of our program, do a couple of weeks of independent travel.
  • Return home for Christmas
  • Spring Semester: Do a second semester program or have a more independent experience, such as a longer-term volunteer placement.

Step 3: Apply!

When you are ready to sign up for this great adventure, begin an application here.

Step 4: Defer from college

If you are a taking a Gap Year in between high school and college, your best route is to apply for schools according to the usual timeline for graduating seniors. Once you choose a school, accept your admissions offer and pay the deposit to your future college or university. From there, contact the admissions office for a deferral. A deferral is an agreement that the college will hold a spot for you and that you will attend campus within the agreed upon timeline (a year or semester later). With that, most deferments mean you cannot apply to other schools during that time. You will also need to check with your college’s admissions office about their policy in regards to earning college credit during your Gap Year if that is something you would like to do.

Step 5: Prepare

At Pacific Discovery, we provide you with clear flight instructions, visa details, packing lists, and support in defining your goals for the program. You don’t need to worry about these details just yet. It’s never too early to learn a little about the country you’re going to and you should make sure that you have a Passport valid six months AFTER your final travel dates.


Still unsure?

We’d love to connect further to talk with you about any questions you have. See contact us to send an inquiry or give us a call at 1-800-655-3415.

For more information, we recommend the following advisers who work with hundreds of students a year to help them design their perfect Gap Year:

Center for Interim Programs:

En Route Gap Year Consulting:

Taylor the Gap:

Gap Year Solutions:

Sage jumps for joy at Everest Base Camp in Tibet

“Our son went on the Nepal Tibet program during the fall of 2013. In sum, his experience was terrific. It was a great balance of learning, adventure, challenge and travel in an incredible part of the world. Highly recommended!” Sage had truly amazing and valuable experiences with a very good balance of challenge, adventure, learning, independence and community. Rachel and Scott are so conscientious and dedicated - as parents, my husband and I felt total trust in them and their staff. Like in "real life," there were challenges on Sage's trip - the usual stuff (sickness, human dynamics within the group, weather, etc.). But those things were fundamental to the whole experience. All in all, Sage stretched himself and learned a lot. He had amazing experiences he'll tell his children and grandchildren about. He came home with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and more appreciation for home and more understanding of the world beyond home. It was just right for Sage - and set the foundation for this next chapter of his life in a very solid way.

I did check out several gap year/gap semester programs when Sage and I were researching his options. We felt Pacific Discovery offered a sort of "best of all options" for what Sage was looking for and we were really delighted with his experience and its lasting value for him.”
Read more Cheryl Tyler, 2013

Nikki, feeling fine on the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

“This program was essential to my successful gap year. Meeting everyone for the first time in Auckland will be an unforgettable experience. I remember feeling scared, nervous, and awkward... but so did everyone else.” Seeing how our group dynamics changed by the end of the trip was pretty incredible. We were so close that we still make time to meet up (after the program)! The people I met on this trip will hold a special place in my heart. We went through some challenges, and the best of times. We laughed, cried, sang, and danced together. They are seriously the coolest people I know, and I am so fortunate to have met them! On another note, Pacific Discovery provided me with the chance to fully explore New Zealand and Australia. We went on many adventures and I learned some lifelong skills-- both technical and social. I find myself often wishing I was back on this program!” Read more Nikki Holzman, 2013
Colorado College

Maddie experiences the greatness of the Angkor temples, Cambodia

“During my senior year of high school I was put into a situation I never imagined would happen to me. I was accepted at my dream school as a February admit. For the first time in my life I had an extended period of free time where I could do anything in the world; and that frightened me.” I knew I wanted to travel to a new place, but not on my own. I discovered Pacific Discovery and knew immediately that this program was the answer I was searching for. From day one it was obvious that this was going to be a life changing experience. We had two amazing, organized, and fun leaders who were ready to push us to get the best cultural experience while also creating friendships. Each day at Pacific Discovery entails a great new adventure. You visit temples, go rock climbing, bathe elephants, bike around ruins, etc. The amount of adventures you have are almost inexplicable, but for me the best part of this program was having these crazy adventures with all of my friends. This program allowed for me to make many lifetime friends that I am still very much in touch with to this day! I cannot recommend this program enough.” Read more Maddie Nunez, 2013
Middlebury College