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

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a break from study or work that some students take to pursue their other interests, dreams and passions. Gap years can be taken for varying durations and at any stage, whether that is right after high school, after college or even during college. 

There is no one right way to spend a gap year, it’s totally up to you! Some students choose to fly off to a sunnier place abroad and experience a different culture on a gap year program, while others volunteer at a local charity or do an awesome internship.

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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 global citizens as a result of their time with Pacific Discovery.

When should I take a gap year?

You can take a gap year before, during or after college - and trust us, there is never a wrong time to take a gap year. The question you should be asking yourself is 'When is the best time for me to take a gap year?' because the best time to take a year off is different from person to person. Your needs, goals and gut feeling will lead the way. Just embrace the thinking process and set your own course.

  • After high school

Taking a gap year after high school seems to be the most popular choice, and we can see why. At 18 years old, you are encouraged to make decisions that will have a big impact on the rest of your life, so you would want to think these choices through. A gap year gives you time to reflect, so you can make more informed decisions, and you can start college with a fresh head space, increased maturity, confidence and motivation.

  • During college

Taking a gap year in the middle of college may seems like an odd choice, but for some students, it is just what they need. You can take some time to focus on yourself, to catch your breath, to gain more practical work experience or to reflect on your previous academic choices. 

  • After college

After graduation, you might feel the pressure to find a good job straight away. However, once you start work, it's really hard to put things on hold. Going on a gap year program or volunteering abroad might not be as easy of an option anymore once you join the work force, so better to take a gap year before settling down. A gap year also serves as a resume booster, so you might just have a better chance of landing your dream job faster after taking your gap year.

When can I take a gap year

Why should I 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 taking a gap year with Pacific Discovery!

1. 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"
  • (3) “skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major”.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 years are part of the solution and are on their way to becoming the new normal. Join the movement.

5. 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 and make plenty of friends. 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 in the reviews.

Should I take a gap year?

6. 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 gap semester with us, you can build on those new skills by traveling independently for your remaining 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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).


How do I plan a gap year?

Step 1: Reflect— what, where, why?

There are a lot of things to think about in choosing a gap year 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.

Not quite sure what you want to do yet? Get inspired by these epic gap year ideas!

Should I take a gap year?

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, 6 and 10 weeks long, there are a lot of creative ways to make Pacific Discovery a part of your experience.

Our semester programs are 10 weeks long. This leaves some time at the end of our programs to take advantage of an extension option or to 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 Spring 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.

Did you already start college and do you want to take a gap year in the middle of your college course? Read about the step-by-step process for taking a gap year during college.

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. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us!

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

Discover More

The benefits of taking a gap year    Epic gap year ideas for students

How to take a gap year during college    How to take a gap year after high school

Why you should consider volunteering abroad on your gap year    Should I Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?

How to Apply to College After a Gap Year    Taking a gap year before grad school

Pacific Discovery - Hawaii Program
So many amazing hikes in Hawaii!

“At the beginning of this program my goal was to grow as a person and Pacific Discovery definitely fostered that goal! I know more about myself, what I like and how I want to spend my future. Not only that, but I also gained vital leadership skills and problem-solving skills. ” I would recommend this program because it gives you enough responsibility to grow while also giving enough structure to learn. I found this program to be perfect for what I was looking for and I was able to make lifelong friends. I especially enjoyed the surf camp and swim with manta rays. To summarize, Pacific Discovery was a crazy adventure that brought me friends, experiences and lessons. It was a work hard, play hard experience that opened my eyes to the world around me.” Read more Josephine Cunningham, 2021
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Pacific Discovery - Western USA Gap Year Semester
Charlie having fun in the snow

“A Pacific Discovery Semester would be a great use of time for any gap year student with an urge to adventure. You get to explore and learn
about new places authentically and in depth, all with lifelong friends by your side. ”
Watching the growth of myself and my group mates on my Pacific Discovery trips has been truly special. The memories I have made and experiences I will cherish here make me so incredibly happy I decided to take a gap year.” Read more Charlie Baker, 2021
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Review Pacific Discovery - Thailand Program
Elephant conservation project in Thailand

“I would definitely recommend this program to others! It was an unforgettable adventure with people that I love and respect. My favourite activity was definitely working with the elephants. That was an experience like no other, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have had such an opportunity.” We had both chores and free time with the elephants, so all the work felt incredibly rewarding. I also loved the freedom we had on student-led days. I was so so grateful to have the chance to visit as many temples as I wanted without feeling like I was holding up anyone else. Such opportunities made me feel like I was making the most of my time in Thailand, and my confidence in my ability to be independent skyrocketed.” Read more Addie Leigh Esposito, 2021
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