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The Perks of Taking a Gap Semester

Updated on February 18, 2013

What is a Gap Semester?

A gap semester or "leave of absence" is when a college student chooses to temporarily un-enroll from college, with the intent to continue their education after their break.

Unlike a gap year, (a popular alternative for high school graduates who wish to explore the world or work before heading to college), a gap semester takes place during a student's college career. In fact, depending on the program, and whether the student has accumulated enough credits, it can even replace a full semester of college, allowing the student to graduate with their class.

A gap semester is not necessarily a semester abroad. Some students may choose to spend some or all of their time abroad while on a gap semester, but unlike a semester abroad, the student is not enrolled in a college or participating in a program.

What can I do with a Gap Semester?

You can do almost anything you want on a gap semester! Here is a brief list of some ideas and reasons for taking a semester away from college:

  • Spend a Semester Working: If your college education is forcing you to search through old piggy banks, you might consider taking a semester off to work for pay! By using one semester and a summer to work, you can return to school with thousands of dollars, especially if you can manage to live at home and avoid paying rent. Also, working will give you valuable job experience, as well as a line and a reference for your future resumés.

  • Go on a Trip: Is there somewhere that you have always wanted to see? If you have a little extra money saved up, you might consider spending a semester exploring somewhere new. Travel can broaden your horizons, expand your world view, and take your mind off of college drama, not to mention the great memories, pictures, and food!

  • Work on a Project: College is extremely involving, and between your academics, extracurriculars, sports, clubs, friends, and social events, it's unlikely that you are left with much time to focus on anything else. If there's something that you're very passionate about that you can see yourself doing for several months, a gap semester might be for you. You could work on writing a book, selling your crafts online, creating a website, or anything else that you can dream up.

  • Volunteer: Is there a cause that you're very passionate about? If so, a semester volunteering could be very fulfilling, not to mention the added benefit of looking good on a resumé. You could live and volunteer in your hometown to save money on rent and travel, or you could expand your horizons and volunteer in another community or even another country.
  • Help Out at Home: Many families today have a hard time both supporting themselves economically and taking care of everything and everyone in their home. Often, younger siblings, older family members, or sick family members may need care that working members of the family are not always able to provide. If your family falls into this category, you can consider taking a gap semester to help support your family either through working a job or taking care of your house and loved ones.


Things to Consider before taking a Gap Semester

A decision to take a break from school can be reached for many reasons: personal reasons, financial reasons, and family reasons being just a few of them. But before you make a decision, there are some things that need to be taken into account and discussed with your parent or guardian, college counselor, registrar, and financial aid office.

1. Finances:

Can you afford to take a semester off? Especially if you are relying on financial aid, there may be consequences to your break. Some things that you may want to ask your parents and school officials are:

• Can I keep any preexisting scholarships or loans if I take a semester off?

• Will I lose my health insurance, or will my rates be affected?

• If I plan to drive during my break, will my car insurance rates go up?

• Will I have to re-file for financial aid by completing a new FAFSA and or CSS profile?

Note: Finance-wise, it completely depends on your situation as to whether a gap semester will cost or save you money. A semester off of school is one semester less of tuition, but there can be hidden costs and rising fees for students who aren't currently enrolled in an academic institution. Make sure you know all of the fees you will need to cover before you make any decisions!

2. Are you Leaving for the Right Reasons?

A semester off can be very appealing, especially if you've been having a hard time in school. However, it may not always be the answer, especially if your struggles are primarily academic.

Social issues and stress are extremely common in college, and taking a break for these reasons can be very useful for gaining perspective. Consider, however, whether you will be happy when you return from your time off. Will you fall back into the same social patterns that drove you away in the first place? If the answer is yes, you might want to think about transferring schools rather than taking a break. Transferring doesn't have to be as difficult and scary as it sounds, especially if you're in good academic standing.

Leaving isn't always the answer, but sticking it out isn't always the best thing for you, either. Only you can decide if taking a gap semester is right for you, but talking to friends at another college, your parents, a guidance counselor, or another trusted person can often be very helpful.

3. How will your College Experience and Academics be Affected?

Leaving for a semester can definitely affect your social and academic life at college, not that this is necessarily a reason to avoid taking a break if you need one. You may want to ask your school some of the following questions:

• Will I be eligible for on-campus housing when I return?

• Will I still be able to graduate on time with my class, or will I need to enroll in extra courses?

• Will I be able to register for classes with the other students, or will I have the last pick of courses?

Tips for Getting the Most out of your Gap Semester

  1. Make a Schedule!

    It can be easy to get off-track when suddenly presented with a lot of free time. It's okay to make changes to this plan as you go, but try to give yourself a timeline to follow, including a planned date of return to school. Setting monthly or weekly goals may help you to be as productive as possible.
  2. Pinpoint the Source of your Stress, and Eliminate it!

    You are considering leaving college for a reason, so make sure that you are using your time off wisely to give yourself a break. If you are struggling academically, maybe taking a summer course is not the answer. If you are stressed for social reasons, taking a break from Facebook may help you to regroup. Find out what it is that is causing you trouble, and try as hard as you can to remove it from your life for the time being.

A Photo from my Semester Spent Writing in New Orleans
A Photo from my Semester Spent Writing in New Orleans

Personal Experience

In my sophomore year of college, I decided to take a gap semester to work on a series of books that I had been writing for quite some time. I left my west coat college and rented a small room in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the time of my arrival I had barely any money, I had no job, and no place to stay for more than a week. A minimum-wage job was easy enough to find, and with the use of some helpful vacation rental websites, I was able to find a place to stay for six months. I personally believe that it was the best decision I have ever made, both for personal growth and life experience.

Would you Consider a Gap Semester?

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