Chapter 5: Deciding If, When, and How to Take A Gap Year

For many students, the process of deciding whether to take a gap year or not can be extremely difficult, will take months of research and planning, and sadly, the answer they’re looking for is not going to simply appear overnight. There are many valuable outcomes that pair with the completion of a successful gap year, such as gaining exceptional experience outside of the classroom, discovering new things about yourself and what you love doing, and expanding your horizons by traveling to places you’ve never been before. However, there are also a few red flags that some people associate with the gap year, namely the daunting question of “will you be able to return to school after your gap year is over?”. While I was contemplating whether or not to take my gap year, this question was proposed to me just about every time I spoke with my mentors, advisors, coaches, and parents about the subject. However, there are other factors that may cause you to turn away from taking a gap year, such as delaying your graduation date and missing out on current opportunities within your academic and social circles today. These factors are just the beginning of the long list of pros and cons that I spent close time examining before confidently deciding to take a gap year between my undergraduate and graduate studies.

Many of my closest advisors, professors, coaches, and mentors have described me as “the planner” because after knowing me for just a short time, it was obvious to them that I, unfortunately, am not a wake-up-and-see-where-life-takes-me kind of girl. To be clear, sometimes I have trouble comfortably falling asleep at night if I don’t have tomorrow’s schedule neatly organized and thought out in my mind. This isn’t something I am particularly proud of, but I’ve accepted it as just the way that I am wired. Anyways, in the summer leading into my senior year in college, I was still facing the unnerving and burdensome question, “what are your plans after graduation?”, which of course led me into a spiral of drafting every possible pathway that could lead toward a successful postgraduate life.

  At first glance, the possibilities seemed to be a bit overwhelming: did I want to immediately continue my academic career by applying to graduate schools right away, did I want to head straight into the workforce, or was there another option out there for me? A few of my friends in college had chosen to take gap years during the COVID-19 Pandemic, with the argument that they needed a break from online learning, Zoom university, and that they were trying to avoid burnout during those uncertain times. Though a gap year was not necessarily on my radar during my time as an undergrad, the option stuck with me throughout the rest of my time in college and became much more attractive as I neared my graduation date. Additionally, due to the pandemic and my commitment to college field hockey, I was unable to study abroad during my undergraduate career, which was another great reason that I longed for learning outside of the traditional classroom environment. As I majored in global studies with a concentration in political science, and still wish to continue studying international affairs, sustainable development, and human rights in my future, I sought potential gap year opportunities that would allow me to gain some experience and insight into these fields.

One of the very first ideas that appeared in my mind was applying to become a volunteer in the Peace Corps, as this incredible organization could give me the opportunity to engage with, understand, and serve diverse communities in a foreign country that had requested aid. However, the looming impacts of the pandemic’s uncertainty unfortunately caused me to shift my plans away from spending a gap year overseas, but not to worry - because this is what led me to apply to the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program, a national and community service program designed specifically for 18-to-26-year-olds who are looking to build a better country for their fellow Americans, all while gaining professional experience and building leadership skills of their own. During my high school days, I spent a few months volunteering with an amazing group of students in a local Habitat for Humanity chapter, and I fell in love with hands-on community service, meeting potential homeowners, and connecting with local non-profits created to spark social change. Undoubtedly, my past experience with Habitat for Humanity strongly swayed my decision to apply for AmeriCorps NCCC, as the program allows members to serve with non-profits on local and national levels across the country on several hands-on projects over a ten month time period. What a dream come true!

After a lengthy application process, in the Spring of my senior year I received word of my selection into the Fall 2022 AmeriCorps NCCC program, where I will carry out my term of service based in Aurora, Colorado, until late July 2023. In just under two weeks I will be departing for Denver International from my home state for this next great adventure and learning experience, and to say I am excited would be an understatement. While seeking out gap year opportunities, I asked myself how I could be put into challenging and eye-opening positions that would prepare me for the next step in my life, and AmeriCorps NCCC most certainly checks off all of my boxes. This program will allow me to travel with a group of like-minded individuals across the Southwest region of the United States, into communities that have requested AmeriCorps aid, and volunteer my time and hard labor to make a serious difference in the lives of people in need. Some of the types of volunteer work I may be required to do include building with Habitat for Humanity, environmental conservation work, volunteering in education initiatives, helping individuals complete their taxes, offering aid in natural disaster preparation and relief, and much more. If this experience sounds like something you’re interested in, try searching AmeriCorps NCCC on your browser, and maybe consider attending one of the informational webinars hosted every few weeks by the program’s leaders.

I chose this path because it truly seems like the unique, challenging, life-changing experience that I wish to go through in order to better understand the communities that I wish to promote positive social change in one day. When deciding on if, when, and how to take a gap year, ask yourself: is this experience going to push you towards who you want to be in the future? Is this experience going to help you grow as a leader, give you confidence as a person, and gain insight into what exactly you want to do after college? If the answers are yes, then it is most definitely worth your time…what’s life without a little risk, anyways? 

Meet the Author
Chloe Mayhew is a 2022 first-generation college graduate, recipient of a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Professional Studies with a concentration in Political Science from Pace University. She is currently preparing for an exciting gap year as a volunteer with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program for 10 months in the Southwest Region of the United States, based in Aurora, CO. Volunteer, global citizen, human rights activist, world traveler, lifelong student. Read more about Chloe >