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Top Gap Semester Programs

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Posted: November 1st, 2023
Top Gap Semester Programs

Taking a gap year can be a big commitment. The time and money alone can be enough to deter people from taking part in many programs. This is not to mention the thought of traveling to another country on your own.. If any of those things are concerns you’ve had, then you’ve come to the right place. Today we’re going to talk about gap semesters, which are all the best parts of gap years wrapped into one semester instead of two! So, let’s go! 

What is a gap semester?

If you are familiar with a gap year, then you’re already familiar with gap semesters. The only difference between these two types of programs is the length of them. During a gap semester, you can travel, work, take online classes, or fill your time with anything that you think is beneficial to you. 

Why choose a gap semester?

There are many reasons for students to take a gap semester, a few of which we listed below. It’s possible that you may have more than one reason for wanting to take a gap semester. Take a look at the reasons below and be sure to think about your own reasons for taking a gap semester as well! 

  • Don’t have to take a full year off from school
  • May still be able to graduate college on time
  • Less expensive than a full gap year
  • Less time away from home

Gap semester programs

Okay, let’s get into some actual examples of programs now! All of the programs listed below are organized gap semesters you can take with an organization. We will talk about gap semesters you can do on your own in a bit!

EF Gap Year

Through EF Gap semester programs, students are encouraged to branch out and learn things that the traditional classroom can’t teach them. Through EF, students can pick from a range of programs that last around ten weeks. Each program has a detailed itinerary available on their website that shows exactly where you will travel, how many days you will stay in each place, and what you’ll be doing while you’re there. We’ve listed just a few of their programs below.

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad is a great option for students who are looking to spend their time giving back and being immersed in another culture. When you travel with Projects Abroad, they offer something that other organizations don’t often offer: flexibility. Each trip with Projects Abroad will have a minimum time that you must commit to (usually one to two weeks). However, after you have completed the minimum required time, you are free to choose how much longer you would like to stay. 

Each week will incur an additional charge, but it is significantly less than the initial amount for the cost of the program. The best part too is that students can choose to add on these additional weeks while they are on the trip. That means that you don’t have to know ahead of time how long you would like to stay. Check out their programs to see if any are right for you!

Semester at Sea

Semester at Sea is a bit different from other traditional gap year or gap semester programs because you’ll still technically be competing college courses. In order to enroll in Semester at Sea, students must have taken at least 12 credits at the post secondary level. This means your gap semester may actually be more likely to take place in the spring unless you have completed college credit in high school. You must also be enrolled full time in a degree program at an accredited school. This means that you will need to complete the college admissions process as usual. The best part about completing a Semester at Sea semester is that you will be earning college credit, which means you shouldn’t fall behind any of your peers!

International Volunteer HQ

Taking time to travel and volunteer is a great way to spend your time away from school. By partaking in an International Volunteer HQ’s program, you’ll be able to give back and show any colleges you’ve applied to that you spent your time off doing something meaningful and productive. These programs allow you to volunteer during the day, as well as allow you time to explore the area you will be volunteering in. 

ARCC Programs

If you’re looking for a program that packs a lot into a little trip, then ARCC Programs may be the perfect match for you! These programs run about 70 days in length and provide you with travel plans to several places. ARCC Programs are available to participate within the U.S. or outside the country. You can download a detailed itinerary of each trip from their website. 

Self-planned gap semesters

It’s important to know that taking time off from school doesn’t mean that you have to have plans for all of that time. The time you take off should be purposeful, but that does not mean it has to be planned out to the very minute. Let’s talk about some other reasons you may take a gap semester!

Mental health

Graduating high school and going to college is a big transition, especially if you plan to move somewhere far away for school and have to leave everything you’ve ever known. There is nothing wrong with deciding to take a bit more time to make that transition. 


Travel is an obvious part of all the programs we talked about above, but that kind of travel can be quite different from traveling you may do on your own. If you’d like to take some time traveling on your own, with a friend or with your family, that can also be a great way to spend your gap semester.


Taking some time to work is also a completely valid way to spend your time. Especially if while you’re working, you’re also spending your free time doing something like learning a language or volunteering. Just remember that the money you make can impact your financial aid as it will be considered income. 

How much do gap semesters cost?

A gap semester can range in price depending on what you’re doing and how you are doing it. So, let’s look at some examples! Say that you want to teach English–depending on how you do it, whether through a program or on your own, you will incur different costs. Let’s look at three examples of what it might cost to teach English during a gap semester through organizations or on your own!

Projects Abroad  International Volunteer HQ Local
With Projects Abroad, you can teach English in Mexico. The cost of this program is $5,050. You will live with a local host family during this time, and food is included. (Min. 4 weeks)
With International Volunteer HQ, students can teach English in San Jose for just $445 a week. This includes food and accommodations. You must participate for a minimum of one week, but can participate for much longer than that if wanted.
Students can also work with local organizations  to teach English. You may teach at a library, community center, or church. Monetary costs may be cheaper for this option, as you’d likely have food and housing accommodations.

If you truly want to take part in a gap semester, there is a way to accommodate your budget, so check all your options thoroughly before you make any decisions!

How to pay for a gap semester?

One of the most attractive parts of a gap semester may be that the cost of the programs you participate in will be significantly less money than if you had to pay for a full year. Or if you plan to simply travel on your own, you’ll be able to mitigate the cost by spending less time traveling. In some cases, you may find that you have enough money to fund your gap semester on your own, but in case you don’t, we’ve listed a few options below!


Scholarships aren’t just for students who are attending traditional colleges. Take some time exploring scholarships that may be available through private organizations, as well as scholarships that some programs may offer if you choose to participate in a structured gap year program. 

Payment plans

Payment plans are not a guaranteed option, but again, may be available should you choose to participate in a structured gap semester program. If you choose to travel somewhere with an organization, they will usually allow you to make payments instead of requiring the full tuition at once.

Out of pocket / working 

It is possible to pay for a gap semester program on your own, especially if you plan to have a job while you take your gap semester. Keep in mind though that working and having an income might lessen your financial aid funds.

Deferring enrollment 

Let’s talk for a minute about the college application process. Whether you plan to take a gap semester during fall or spring, you should be familiar with the policies of the school you are applying to. In most cases you should be able to complete the college admissions process as usual and defer your enrollment from fall to spring. 

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • A gap semester is very similar to that of a gap year, but it is simply completed in one semester rather than two
  • There are plenty of ways that you can spend your gap semester through structured programs, or on your own through self-teaching, travel, or working
  • If you plan to attend college after your semester off, you should be sure to complete the college admissions process as usual and write a letter of deferment once you are accepted
  • It’s important to make sure that your semester off has meaning and purpose
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about gap semester programs

Is it okay to take a gap semester?

Yes, it is completely fine to take a gap semester off from school! You should strive to make your time off as meaningful as possible though. Be sure to write a deferral letter to your college to show that you spent your time in a meaningful way.

Do colleges allow gap semesters?

For the most part, colleges are usually fairly accommodating of students who would like to take gap semesters and gap years. If you plan to take part in the typical college admissions process, you’ll be accepted as usual and then will need to write a letter explaining that you’d like to defer your enrollment. Your college will decide on their own whether they will approve your deferred enrollment request or not.

What happens to financial aid if I take a gap semester?

Your financial aid can be affected if you decide to take time off from school, especially if you take time off to work. It’s important to check with any private scholarships you may have received about whether they will allow you to defer them. Some of them may, but others may need to be dispersed at certain times, which might affect your ability to use them.

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