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Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.

There’s no need to worry about getting into college after a gap year. Diverse international experiences like GVI’s gap year programs can actually 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’ll most likely return from your gap year inspired, with a clearer sense of direction and a new enthusiasm for your studies. 

Make the most of your gap year experience by having a game plan for your college application before you go. 


2 participants watching giraffes

What is a gap year?

If you’re not already familiar with the idea, a gap year involves taking time off from your studies to explore life outside of 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 the world. This is a rare dose of freedom, so you should make the most of the opportunity. 

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

All of these gap year options will help you to find your focus for your future career, and build on your resume. This will make your college application stand out. 


Participants working on a group project around a laptop

What are the pros and cons of taking a gap year?

Taking a gap year might be the biggest decision you’ve made so far, so it pays to weigh up the pros and cons. 

Firstly, gap years are a chance to gain valuable life and professional experience. 

Through the challenges and adventures you’ll encounter on 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 about the importance of global sustainable development goals


participants experiencing different cultures


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 downsides, struggling to reboot your education after a year off is often considered a gap year con. However as gap years are now common practice, you’ll find more support from colleges and your family. And if you 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, you can enjoy ample support from teachers, guidance counsellors and peers who are all invested in your success. This usually makes the process straightforward. 

However, with the pressure to pick a course of study and little real-world experience, you could end up in a study program that you later discover doesn’t suit you. 

Applying to college after a gap year means you won’t have the same level of support. On the other hand, you’ll have become more independent and capable during your time away from school. Plus you’ll most likely have a clearer idea of the course of study you would really like to pursue. 


Participants completing marine research


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 that colleges count as assets. 

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

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 won’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 lower-resource communities in Cambodia, you’ll be adding to your admission potential in a meaningful way.

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 ahead 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. 


participants on their gap year complete teamwork

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

Girl working at her laptop


If you plan on submitting your college application during your gap year, you should also explain why you chose this path and explain what you have gained from the experience. This can make a rich addition to your application essay. 

By remaining proactive about the admissions process and committed to your goals during your gap year, applying to college will be a breeze. 

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

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