For traditional college students the process goes something like this: apply to colleges during their junior and senior years of high school, graduate, and immediately start college the following fall semester. However, is this the only path? What about a gap year? According to U.S. News, a gap year is a year of experiential learning that is normally taken after high school and before college with the aim to deepen professional and personal goals and awareness. It is a time to volunteer, intern, travel, and overall have experiences that opens one’s eyes to see the world at a larger level. Over time, gap years have been more popular with students in Europe and Australia. However, gap years have only recently started to increase in popularity in the U.S.
In a 2015 survey by the American Gap Association, student motivations for taking a gap year were to gain life experiences and grow personally (92%), to travel and experience new cultures (85%), and to take a break from academics (82%). Other motivations include exploring academic options and volunteering. Whatever the motivation is, 98% of students noted that their gap year helped them develop as a person with 96% of students increasing their confidence, and 93% saw an increase in their communication skills. Others reported that their gap years helped them gain skills to be more successful in their careers while also gaining a deeper understanding of other cultures, and becoming global citizens.
For Melissa Moore, sailing on a Semester at Sea voyage is how she decided to explore during her gap year.
I was originally planning (even until after graduation!) to go to a small private university in North Carolina to play sports but realized that it would prohibit me from being able to study abroad which is something that I always knew that I wanted to do. Semester at Sea is an incredible program that allows gap year students who are looking to eventually transfer course credits to their home universities while also having multi-cultural experiences and hands on learning opportunities for students. It allowed me to take classes from several disciplines with students from a wide background.
Although Melissa originally sailed on Semester at Sea during her gap year for more logistical reasons, believing that her participating in college sports would prevent a semester abroad during college, she was able to sail again on the Fall 2019 Voyage. “I had always known that I would like to study abroad while I was in school, so I decided why not for my first semester. The week before I disembarked from my gap year voyage, SAS released the itinerary for FA19. I instantly forwarded this to my parents and told them I was applying. Sure enough, within a week of arriving back home I had started my application and was back on the World Odyssey two years later!”
I do believe that more students should take a gap year and while I may be bias, I think Semester at Sea is the best program to do it with! My gap year experience (FA17) was the best decision that I have made and even landed me back on SAS as a repeat voyager two years later on the Fall 2019 voyage. During my second voyage, I was a Student Life Student Assistant who helped to facilitate programming events and serve as a mentor for the voyages gap year students! While I occasionally wonder what a typical “freshman year” at university might have looked like for me, I have absolutely no regrets on my decision to take a gap year voyage with SAS. If I had the chance to go back knowing what I know now, I would make the same decision again and again.
Although the intention with many gap year students is to take a break from academics, grow personally, and travel, gap years have proven to be a life-altering experience that projects a shift in career aspirations. “Not only did the courses I take during my FA17 voyage impact my undergraduate major, but also pushed me to have more abroad experiences any chance I could. I studied abroad with SAS again as a Junior and now am pursuing my Masters degree in Hong Kong which is certainly something that I have SAS to thank for!”
There are many experiences that a student on Semester at Sea can have. For Melissa, one of her favorites was waking up to the sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar for a hot air balloon ride, which overlooked ancient pagodas. There are also countless memories of spending time with friends on the ship that Melissa looks back on fondly.
Before my voyage, I truly had no idea how impactful this experience would be. I was excited to leave home and travel. These two things, while true, were the least significant part of the voyage. Sailing as a gap year student gave me more independence. I had always known that I would like to study abroad while I was in school, so I decided why not for my first semester. I would certainly recommend a gap year to other students as a way to not only explore the world, but make countless connections and memories that will truly shape your future!
After earning her BCBS from Appalachian State University in December 2020, Melissa embarked on a new journey as she works to complete her MScBM program at Hong Kong Baptist University on a full scholarship.
Ready for your Gap Year adventure? We’re currently accepting applications for the Fall 2022 Voyage!