So you’re considering a gap year in 2020? You’re not alone! With many colleges uncertain about how classes will be held this fall and the general future feeling uncertain and overwhelming in many ways, many students are hoping to take a mental break from school for more reasons than one.
If you’re wondering about how to take a gap year in 2020, keep reading. We’ll fill you in on all the steps you need to take to make it possible.
1. Consider the purpose of your gap year.
A gap year is traditionally a year-long break from school to focus on work, travel and/or personal growth. However, gap years look different for everyone. Spending some time thinking about why you want to take a gap year can help you decide what you should do during your time off.
Some students feel—during a pandemic or otherwise—that a mental health break will help them grow, reset and return to their studies healthier and more focused. (Studies on gap years support this, by the way!) Other students are overwhelmed at the prospect of another semester—or more—of online classes and would rather wait until schools open again for on-campus learning to return to school. Some students are having trouble making ends meet without on-campus work or funding.
There could be any number of valid reasons to take a break before returning to school. Many students who take gap years say that the time off helped them learn more about themselves and clarify what they wanted to study and pursue for the future.
2. Decide on logistical details.
A gap year can be taken for a full year, for an academic year or just a semester. Your circumstances, your goals for your time off and your financial situation will probably determine how much time you want or can take off.
You’ll also want to decide:
- Where you’ll go/live during your gap year
- How you’ll spend your time
- How much money you’ll need
3. Make a plan for what to do.
Once you have an idea of when and where you’d like to take time off, you can start making a plan for how you’ll spend your time. There are so many great ways to spend a gap year! If you need ideas, consider:
- Traveling. Although traveling has so far proven difficult in 2020, many people are expecting that it will continue to get better as more and more places begin to reopen throughout the year. Even though it may not be okay to go back to a college campus full of thousands of people living and working in close proximity, it may be okay to travel.
- Working. A part-time job, remote internship or even full-time work can all be an option for your gap year. If you want to gain real world experience, make some money and test out a field you might be interested in, taking off some time to work can be a great option for you!
- Volunteering. There are lots of ways to get involved with volunteering, whether at home in your own community or across the world.
- Enrolling in a gap year program. There are a ton of great gap year programs that can help you pull together all the details so you’re not totally overwhelmed. Some of the most popular gap year programs (who are still running programs or modified programs in 2020) include Seamester, Projects Abroad, International TEFL Academy, Year On, and Winterline.
For more ideas, check out our blog post on best ways to spend a gap year.
4. Contact the appropriate people to put your normal life on pause.
If you’re a student already:
Check your university’s leave of absence policy and speak to an academic advisor and a financial aid advisor to ensure you understand (a) what to do before you leave and (b) what you’ll need to do in order to ensure a smooth transition back.
In many cases (but not all), a leave of absence can be granted for anywhere from one to several semesters. You can apply for this by making a written request to the dean of your academic department or university. Once granted, your enrollment status will basically be paused for the predetermined amount of time. After this time, you can petition to resume your enrollment. As long as you request a leave of absence before the deadline (typically before the first week of classes), you often will be eligible for a tuition waiver for the semester.
Depending on the amount of time you’re taking off and types of financial aid you are receiving, the impact on a leave of absence on your financial aid may vary. Student loans may need to be deferred if you’re taking off more than six months. Scholarships and grants from your university will likely be paused. However, different universities have different policies about how to restart them in the future.
If you’ve just graduated high school and are heading to college:
Once you’ve decided to take a gap year, you’ll want to request a deferment of your acceptance to university. Confirm your acceptance and that you’d like to attend the university. Then send a letter to the admissions office outlining your desire to defer admission for a gap year and—as best you can—outline what you’re planning to do during your gap year. The admissions committee will review your request and get back to you. Some schools may have a specific process for this. You may also want to check with your admissions counselor about who to contact and what to include. If possible, you should send your gap year request between late-April and mid-July: the sooner, the better.
If you haven’t accepted any offers and the deadline is passed to do so, you’re not out of luck. You’ll just need to resubmit your applications again in the fall.
If you’ve just graduated college:
Life is hard and weird right now, but you can still take a gap year before moving forward with graduate studies, a full-time job or other plans. See above if you’d like to defer your enrollment in graduate school.
5. Save your money.
How much money do you need to take a gap year? Well, that depends! If you’re planning on working or living with friends or family, your expenses may be a lot less than regular tuition and expenses for school. Working for at least part of your gap year can also help you cover expenses.
If you’re hoping to travel, several months abroad can cost as little as a few thousand dollars, if you plan ahead and stick to a budget! Thankfully, there are lots of cheap ways to travel . This is particularly true if you’re willing to work or volunteer abroad. Organizations like Workaway and WWOOF can help you find volunteer placements around the world. These will usually cover your housing and/or food while you’re abroad, saving you a TON of money!
If you’re planning to enroll in a gap year program, many programs cost between $15,000-$30,000. A lot of them offer financial aid as well, similar to a semester at school.
Once you’ve made a plan, requested time off from school as needed and saved some money, you’re all set for your gap year to begin! Want more tips and ideas on taking a gap year in 2020? Follow us on Instagram and shoot us a DM if you have questions—we love hearing from you!