What you need to know about applying to college after a gap year

    Article by Petrina Darrah

    Petrina Darrah

    Posted: January 21, 2022

    There’s no need to worry about getting into college after taking a gap year. Diverse international experiences like GVI’s gap year programs can help boost your application. Here’s what you need to know before taking the leap.

    Can you apply to college after a gap year? Absolutely. In fact, you’re likely to return from your gap year inspired, with a clearer sense of direction and a new enthusiasm for your studies. 

    If you form a game plan for your college application before you set off on your gap year, you’ll maximise the experience – setting yourself up for a year of adventure and success in the long run!



    What is a gap year?

    A gap year involves taking time off from your studies to explore life outside the classroom. Gap year students typically choose to take a break after leaving high school, but before they apply for college.

    Taking a gap year is an opportunity to mature as a young adult, discover potential career paths, and fulfill your dreams of travelling. It’s also a big dose of freedom before adult life arrives full-on! 

    While it’s great to view your gap year as a time out, and an opportunity to break away from the environments you’ve always known and discover new parts of yourself, revelations only take place through a well planned experience.

    Gap year ideas can include volunteering abroad, studying another language overseas, or gaining practical skills on an international internship. 

    Each option can help focus your future career, and build on your resume. They’ll also make your college application stand out.



    The pros and cons of taking a gap year

    Taking a gap year could be the biggest decision you’ve made so far, so your first step should be writing a list of pros and cons. 

    A major pro – gap years are a chance to gain valuable life- and professional experience. 

    Through the challenges and adventures you’ll encounter in your gap year, you’ll develop a better sense of who you are and what you want in life. 

    You’ll also gain a more nuanced understanding of the world, as you experience different cultures, see international development in action, and learn the importance of global sustainable development goals.

    On GVI’s gap year programs, the world becomes your classroom. As you grow to be more mature and globally-minded, you’ll become more prepared for your college experience and future career. 



    You’ll meet new people, make new friends, and develop a network of other inspiring young leaders. As well as helping to expand your perspective — and giving you places to stay around the world — this network can be a benefit to your professional life. 

    In terms of the cons, struggling to reboot your education after a year off can be a challenge for some. But gap years are common practice now, and you’ll find more support from colleges and your family than you would have in the past. And if you really do spend your gap year learning new skills, it should be easier to shift back into academic gear.

    Having goals and a plan for getting into college at the end of your gap year will ensure that you stay on an upward career trajectory. 

    When to apply for college

    When applying for college in high school, most enjoy ample support from teachers, guidance counsellors and peers – which usually makes the process straightforward. 

    But with the pressure to pick a field of study (and going on little real-world experience), you could end up in a program that doesn’t ultimately suit you. 

    Applying to college after a gap year means you’ll need to be more intentional about seeking support. But, ideally, you’ll have become more independent during your time away from school – and have a clearer idea of what field of study you most want to pursue.



    Choosing the gap year route, and tackling your admission process independently, underlines your motivation, passion, and professionalism, as well as strong interests outside the classroom. These are all desirable qualities for college recruiters. 

    Another option – depending on the policy of your chosen college – could be applying for college straight out of high school, and then deferring your admission for a year. This secures your place and means your gap year won’t derail your admission process. 

    This approach can help you stay motivated to apply, as you’ll be going through the process at the same time as your classmates. 

    How to apply for college after a gap year

    First off, relax! You aren’t the first student to decide to take a gap year. 

    As gap years become more popular, and the benefits more widely understood, colleges have become more accepting and supportive of the decision to take a year off. 

    A gap year shouldn’t affect your admissions chances if you treat it as an extended part of your education. As long as you take part in productive activities, such as learning to scuba dive in Seychelles or teaching English in Costa Rica, you’ll be adding to your admission potential.

    If you use your gap year to build up your resume, it can strengthen your application. You can impress the college admissions office with your practical and personal skills development when applying to college after a gap year. 

    Plan ahead



    Start planning for the college application process. Even if you’re taking a year off, you can lay the groundwork while still in high school. 

    Collect transcripts, test results, and letters of recommendation before leaving school – while you still have access to the right information and resources.

    Get recommendations

    Start your application while still on your gap year. Approach mentors or supervisors during your gap year to ask for a good recommendation. 

    The people you spend time with during your gap year will have insights into your experiences and can talk about your personal growth and development in maturity, responsibility and leadership. 

    Craft your essay carefully



    If you plan on submitting your college application during your gap year, you should also explain why you chose this path and what you’ve gained from the experience. This makes your application essay so much more meaningful. 

    Be proactive about the admissions process, and keep your long-term goals in mind as you head off on your gap year adventure – it’ll turn a year of freedom into a sustainable plan! 

    Start planning your gap year today. Take a look at GVI’s range of international gap year programs.

    Disclaimer: The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19. 

    By Petrina Darrah

    Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.