Considerations for Taking a Gap Year Webster University I Career Planning & Development Center

What is a Gap Year?

Traditionally, gap years are when a student takes time off between high school and college. This practice is more common in other countries, although has become increasingly popular in the U.S. Gap years can be for any number of reasons where you take some time off in transitioning between secondary education, higher education, and full time employment. A gap year doesn’t have to be a year, it could be a short term commitment or even a 2 year commitment to a service program.

What are some reasons individuals pursue a gap year?

  • Give back through service
  • Exposure to different perspectives and cultures
  • Gain additional experience to attain admission into graduate school or succeed in their chosen career
  • Feeling burned out or uncertain about next steps
  • Save money for additional schooling
  • Pivot to another career field
  • Improve application competiveness or reapply to graduate school

Common Options for a Gap Year


There are a great deal of opportunities to volunteer or serve in your local community, across the country, or throughout the world. Some opportunities may be more informal and coordinated through a particular non-profit while other programs have competitive application processes and deadlines like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.

Preparation for Graduate and Professional School

It is common for individuals to take some time to improve their competitiveness as an applicant for graduate or professional school.

Coursework and Certifications

  • Applicants may set aside time to complete coursework either by retaking courses to improve a lower than desired GPA or taking additional pre-requisites. Others may want to take the time to study for rigorous exams needed for admission such as the MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, or GRE.
  • Many career fields have relevant certifications that could be pursued to further enhance your application. Seek out professional organizations and mentors in your field to learn about key certifications.

Gaining Experience

  • Some programs have requirements for shadowing, observing, or completing related clinical experiences. A gap year can assist you in working toward these hours and clarifying your interest in the field. If you are considering a volunteer medical opportunity abroad, please review Ethical Challenges in Short-Term Global Health Training to learn more about common pitfalls and how to have impactful ethical experiences.
  • Research is another area that your application may be lacking. Becoming involved in a research lab or group can assist you in gaining crucial research and analytical skills as well as potential presentations or publications.

Developing References

  • Perhaps you were not able to develop strong relationships with mentors or references during your time in school. Use this time to identify individuals who know you well and would be willing to speak positively about your qualifications and aptitude for pursuing your particular career field.
  • Talk to your career advisor, faculty, relevant professionals, and research professional organizations to understand what steps you need to take to be the most competitive applicant you can be.


Many individuals are interested in traveling and experiencing different areas and cultures. Before embarking on your travel experiences, consider your key purposes and motivations. Would you like to gain experience through working or volunteering abroad? Are you interested in traveling for a specific purpose like increasing your language fluency?


Perhaps you are looking to explore career options or pivot to another career field. Internships can be a great way to gain experience in your desired area. This also allows you to make a shorter term commitment to explore an area and decide if this is the best path for you to pursue. Find internship resources on the CPDC website and start your search on Handshake.

Evaluating Opportunities

Determine your goals, interests, and needs as you explore gap year options to find the best fit for you. Keep the following criteria in mind as you research opportunities:

  • Connection to your future goals
  • Time commitment
  • Cost and/or financial incentives
  • Transparency of information
  • Reviews of current/former participants
  • Appropriate accreditation as relevant
  • Ethical policies and implications

Talking About Your Gap Year

Consider what transferable skills you gained from your experience. Transferable skills are those skills that apply to many settings, e.g., leadership or communication skills. How did your gap year experience contribute to your mindset or skill set?

In what ways has your gap year experience helped prepare you for your next career steps? How has the experience clarified your interests or desired emphasis areas within your career field?

You can incorporate your gap year experiences on your resume to highlight your activities. Articulating this experience can also help to account for any gaps an employer might wonder about on your resume.

In an interview, employers or graduate schools may specifically ask you about your gap year. Present a focused and clear summary of how it has contributed to your current mindset and goals. Avoid phrasing like “feeling burned out” or “not being ready for next steps.” A rambling or apologetic explanation will only serve to cause more questions in the mind of an employer. Be confident and take ownership of your experiences as they help to make you a unique candidate.

The Career Planning & Development Center (CPDC) assists individuals with exploring and defining their personal career goals while developing the skills and confidence necessary to succeed.

Explore additional resources, tools and services on the CPDC's website.

Individual career advising is available for current Webster University students and recent graduates. Request an appointment with a career advisor through Handshake.


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