The transition from high school to college is one of the most crucial times in your life. You’ve spent your entire time in school preparing, learning, and growing. Now, it’s time to decide what you want to do with your life. However, you might not know yet what you want for your future. How are you expected to choose a career path at eighteen years old without a complete understanding of who you are, your passions, and your strength?
A gap year is the time you take for other things before you go to college. The idea is to give you a break from academics so that you have the time to go out into the world and experience things. During this time, you’ll have a chance to discover yourself, gain a better understanding of your goals, and get a better idea of the career you want to pursue.
For this reason, the gap year was created. In order to effectively make big life decisions, some students need more time to explore and discover their passions. If this sounds like you, it may be that you need time to grow so that you can establish a goal in your mind. Before you go to college, it’s vital to know what you’re working for.
Gap years are done in a number of ways. Some students take on internships, while others engage in volunteer work. Taking a gap year is also an excellent time to travel, meet new people, and explore cultures different from your own. There are also structured gap-year programs you can sign up for after high school graduation or as a college gap between semesters.
Why Would Someone Choose to Take a Gap Year?
We are often taught to think we have to choose between going to college and other alternatives, like taking up a trade or jumping directly into the job market. However, this is not necessarily true.
A gap year is not an alternative to college. It is about preparing yourself for college and, in many ways, for life in general. Taking a gap year offers a number of opportunities for growth and exploration and can provide you with some real advantages in life, including:
Building Confidence and Independence
Gap years offer an opportunity for personal growth. Often, when we are pushed too hard to succeed academically, we forget about other aspects of our lives. We don’t have time to develop interpersonal skills and confidence in ourselves. Qualities such as these are invaluable in the real world and are not readily taught in an academic setting.
Because of this, many college graduates who jumped right into college after high school flounder in the real world. They may be quickly hired in the job market only to find that building relationships with others is far more important than the knowledge and skills gained from college. Others may soon discover that the career they have been training for their entire lives is not one they like or that makes them particularly happy.
A gap year provides an opportunity to get to know yourself. You will grow and become more confident. Your confidence will propel you to success in whatever you choose to pursue. The maturity gained from a gap year is often invaluable in a college setting.
Discovering Your Path
Another thing that taking a gap year can provide is a larger perspective. By exploring a little of what the world has to offer, you will learn more about yourself. If you choose to travel, you see how others live their lives, which may help with your own direction in life.
This perspective offers greater clarity when it comes to your direction in life. It will make it easier for you to define your goals. In turn, these goals will help you to decide on a possible career path. You may even find your purpose in life.
Pursuing Your Passions
Many have no idea what they want to do with their lives when they graduate from high school. Part of the reason for this is that they don’t truly know who they are. One way to discover yourself is to pursue your passions and see what sticks.
There are plenty of interests that you cannot experience inside the walls of a classroom. What’s more, you may not see how your passions may translate into valuable skills for a future career. For instance, if you enjoy painting and the arts, there are likely to be many who tell you you’ll never make money with such things.
A gap year is a chance to explore these types of passions. If you’ve always wanted to write a book, then now’s your chance. You have a year—go! With a gap year, you have the opportunity to work on pursuits that are meaningful to you.
Building a Competitive Edge
Entering college straight out of high school also comes with a number of pitfalls. Many high school students are not prepared socially and academically to succeed in a college setting. The motivation and maturity needed for college success often come from life experiences.
These experiences are gained in college while you’re trying to juggle classes and grades, or during a gap year. Unfortunately, many first-year college students cannot handle the responsibilities of college and drop out after their first couple of semesters. Even those who stay often experience lower motivation and sinking grades.
The fact is, taking a gap year can be thought of as college prep. With a bit of life experience under your belt, you’ll be better prepared to tackle the challenges of college. You may enter college with a competitive edge, earn a higher GPA, take on more leadership roles, and graduate faster.
Four Great Reasons to Take a Gap Year
Isn’t a Gap Year Just a Waste of Time?
A gap year is not a vacation from life. It is a chance to explore and discover new passions and interests. Aimlessly taking a year off is not productive and not likely to offer any positive takeaways. Instead, it helps to have a goal in mind and a clear focus on what you want to explore and learn.
However, for those who want to learn more about themselves before entering college, a gap year can be a productive experience. Another reason someone might choose to take a gap year is if they are feeling burned out on academics. The constant stress of grades and the fast-paced nature of academics can become challenging to handle.
In either case, taking a gap year can help to refocus your efforts. It’s also a way to recharge and learn things on your own terms. Many find that this time allows them to see what they really want out of college and life.
Some colleges even encourage students to take gap years. These schools, including Harvard University and New York University, offer applicants a chance to defer their admission to take the year off. Others even offer university-sponsored programs, including Princeton University, which allows undergraduates to enroll in a tuition-free service program.
Colleges do this because they know that students who take this time before entering college are more likely to succeed and have a higher performance. After all, there is significant evidence pointing to the benefits for students taking gap years.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that every student should take a gap year. Experiencing the full benefits of this practice can be costly, especially if there’s travel involved, so you should think carefully before you rush into it.
How Do You Take a Gap Year?
As mentioned earlier, a gap year is not a vacation or time off from all of your responsibilities. It is a time for growth and development. As such, to take an effective gap year, you’ll need to plan out what you intend to do and your purpose for doing it.
How will you spend your time? Will you have a job or take an internship? Do you intend to travel, and, if so, where will you go and what will you do? Traveling around Europe is all well and good, but unless you have some goals in mind and some hard-working experiences planned, it could be easy to fall into aimless wandering.
Keep in mind that with technology, there are plenty of remote internship and job opportunities that you may find beneficial. You can also take a couple of free online college courses while pursuing other interests if a full-fledged gap year is more than your budget can handle.
One way to go about your gap year is to start with a service program that transitions into a less structured period of personal exploration. You might plan to travel for part of the gap year and then devote your time to a personal interest or skill. That said, no matter how you plan your gap year, it’s vital to ensure that you are growing and learning from the experience.
Options to Pursue During a Gap Year
Ultimately, your gap year should be highly personalized around your interests. What you decide to do with your year will be very different from other’s experience. That said, the goal should always be about self-discovery and growth.
You can use your gap year to gain experience in a field of study, travel, or volunteer. It’s really up to you. You might also choose to split your year up into different pursuits. However, it would help if you always kept in mind what you intend to learn from your experiences, whether your focus is on skill-building, adventure, or volunteering. To help you plan your time, the Gap Year Association offers a helpful guide.
You can also work with many programs, including community service, wilderness education, language learning, and cultural immersion. You might be interested in a program like AmeriCorps that involves traveling to different communities to deal with poverty and unemployment problems.
What’s more, there are programs where you can travel on a boat and learn to scuba dive—others where you go to countries like Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The possibilities are endless.
How Does a Gap Year Prepare You for College?
The majority of those who choose to take a gap year before college say they benefited from the experience. Going straight into college without taking a break from academics can be challenging and may have an adverse effect on your focus, drive, and direction. After taking a gap year, most students return refreshed and ready to tackle college with a newfound perspective.
In fact, the time spent reflecting on your personal interests can help you to make a better decision as to what you want to pursue in college. It helps when it comes to picking your major and connecting with your chosen field of study. Plus, students who take a gap year are more likely to graduate from college in less time than those who don’t.
A gap year also helps you to develop important skills that will help you succeed in college. You might learn a new language or develop communication skills. Any hands-on experience you have while on your gap year can be invaluable to your success. Not to mention that it can be a transformative experience, helping you to discover your interests and purpose in life.
On top of that, your gap year is a great time to begin building your resume. Gaining hands-on work experience, learning a new language, and developing skills can give you an edge that helps your CV to stand out over others.
Can a Gap Year Change Your Life?
A gap year can be a transformative experience that shapes your future and provides direction for your life. However, it needs to be done correctly. One of the first things you’ll need to decide is if you’re going to plan your gap year independently or be part of a formal program.
Whatever you decide, whether it’s paid work, volunteering, traveling, or completing an internship, taking a gap year has been growing in popularity. It can help you to avoid academic burnout and explore what you’re genuinely passionate about. Few regret the experience, and most feel their gap year changed their lives.
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