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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Gap Year Questions: What is a Gap Year and Who Takes Them?

So you’re trying to decide what comes next after high school, and there’s a lot of career options out there.

Astronaut? Lawyer? Marine Biologist? Woodworker?

But before you blast off into space, step foot in the courtroom, dive in, or carve out your future, you have to study it somewhere. From university to college, apprenticeships and trade schools, there are a lot of different paths.

But maybe you want some time before diving in or want, a break between years of your studies, or even some time before jumping into the workforce full time. This is where a gap year fits in.

You may be asking yourself, “What is a gap year? Who takes those? Can I take one?”

Let’s dive in and answer your gap year questions!

So… What is a Gap Year?

So, you may be wondering what a gap year is as you start planning your post-secondary journey. Before you can decide if it’s right for you, you – naturally – may want to know a little more about what it is!

A gap year is an intentional and purposeful step away from normal routine to pursue personal, educational, professional growth through any combination of work, volunteer, travel and/or interest activities.

A gap year, despite having “year” in the title, doesn’t actually have to be a full 365 days. A gap year can range from a semester, that full year, two years, or anything longer than the standard school break. Because a gap year is longer than the standard school break, you couldn’t call your summer vacation a gap year.

Taking a gap year is also an intentional and purposeful choice. It’s different than just choosing not to go to school. You have to go into a gap year with a plan and purpose to get the most out of your year. The plan may change as your gap year goes on, but the intentional planning that goes into these years is what differentiates it from just taking a year off.

Many people assume that gap years can only happen between high school and post-secondary (like university or college), but a gap year can fit into different times of your educational journey! This may be when it typically takes place, but don’t let being at a different part in your educational journey deter you from this. Gap years truly are not just limited to your time between high school and post-secondary – in fact, 30% of people who approach CanGap are mid-post-secondary or actually about to graduate university!

Who’s Taking a Gap Year?

Gap years are only growing in popularity, and as they grow more common, some of the main reasons people take them have become more clear.

Here are some of the common personalities taking a gap year.

The High Achiever

Are you a high achiever? This person was somebody who was go, go, go all throughout high school – and it paid off! They studied hard to get good grades, were involved in a ton of extracurricular activities, and found time to be social with friends after school.

After four years of moving at breakneck speed, they need some time off to recharge their batteries before university. This is a great – and common! – reason to take a gap year between high school and post-secondary. The high achiever doesn’t want to end up completely burnt out, which is common for people who are constantly balancing so much.

The Direction Seeker

Are you torn between studying earth sciences at university, studying HVAC at college, or looking for a more hands-on apprenticeship? Or are you on the opposite side of the spectrum and not sure of anything you want to study?

You may be a direction seeker.

This person has a ton of interests with a ton of range between them, or is completely unsure where to start. Either way, they want to take the time to think, explore different career paths, and make a more informed choice. This is super valuable because it helps ensure that when they start their studies, it’s something they are excited about! Taking a gap year can help them define their direction and avoid having to work backwards.

The Savvy Saver

Post-secondary is expensive. Even with loans, family support, and saving in high school, there are a ton of expenses that add up quickly. If you want to avoid too many loans or need some more time to save for the expenses, you may be a savvy saver.

A savvy saver is somebody using a gap year to save money to put towards these expenses. While they would be spending a large part of the year earning and saving money, they would also find time to focus on personal development during their time off.

Pro tip: If you’re taking time off during your gap year to save, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to work on personal development! Gap years are more than travel and volunteering overseas. You can still gain a lot without spending a lot. You could also turn travel into your way to earn money. You could find a job somewhere else in Canada or take a job in another country – take care of the travel bug and savings at the same time!

The Explorer

Are you hungry to see the world outside of a university campus? Maybe you want a chance to explore different parts of the world before deciding where you want to study? This makes you an explorer!

Explorers want to see the world before settling into textbooks and midterms. The focus of this gap year is rooted in travel – anything ranging from neighbouring communities, touring countries and cultures they’ve never experienced before, or even volunteer trips to another continent. Not all those who wander are lost, and the Explorer is wandering with a purpose!

The Barrier Breaker

Sometimes, life throws you a curve ball that you weren’t expecting. When these things happen, you may need to take time to recover or break through those barriers in order before tackling a change as large as post-secondary.

If something unexpected has detoured your journey, you could be a barrier breaker. This person spends their gap year working through whatever they may have struggled with – or on better techniques to cope – before they are ready to add the extra pressures of university. This extra time can ensure the barrier breaker is more prepared for this next chapter.

The Plan B Gapper

Everybody has had a one-track plan that didn’t end up working out. It may seem like that was the only path, but you bounced back and found another way. When one door closes, burst through a window! It’s all about having that plan B. If this sounds like you, you may be a Plan B Gapper.

Trying to figure out your plan B can come from a lot of different places.Maybe you didn’t get into the program you wanted off the bat, or maybe you started a program that ended up being the wrong fit. Either way, you want the time to figure out what comes next. The Plan B Gapper is somebody who is taking the year to improve their application or find another pathway that suits them – either way, they’re kicking through that window. A closed door doesn’t stop them!

The Project Based Gapper

Do you have a passion project you want to test out before moving onto university? Consider yourself a project based gapper!

This is an emerging trend with people who find themselves taking a gap year. Whether it’s an entrepreneur who wants to try out their business, a tech fan wanting to get a foot in the door, or an activist who wants to take a year to work on a passion project, the project based gapper is motivated by a project outside the classroom.

What If You Don’t See Yourself in Any of These Gappers?

Of course, gap years aren’t exclusive to people who fall into these categories. You can take a gap year if your reasons behind the decision don’t fall into these categories or, maybe only part of it does – everybody has a different style of gap year, and you can find out your style here!

Gap years are all about taking a step away from your normal routine to pursue growth in so many different directions – financial, personal, or directionally. The great thing about a gap year is that it can look completely different for everybody! While there are some standards around what a gap year is, you have a huge sandbox to play in and make it exactly what you want. And as gap years grow with popularity, even more common personalities of who is taking them will come out.

Now that you’ve found answers to some gap year questions, we have a question for you: ready to start planning?


Are you still trying to decide if a gap year is right for you? Take this quiz and find out if it may be the right choice for you!

If you already know you’re interested in a gap year, or take the quiz and find out it may be the right choice, you can also take this quiz to see your gap year style – are you a savvy saver or an explorer?

Don’t forget to contact us to share your results!

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