By definition, a gap year means taking a year away from schooling. The most common timing is after high school school and prior to college, but it can also be popular to take one before starting graduate school.
After more than a decade in a classroom, a year off before diving into college can be a welcome possibility for students. But most can’t take the year to just lie around the house. The year should be filled with experiences you wouldn’t be able to have if you were at college. The ideas for spending time can vary, but whether you want to give back or see the world, there are plenty of options and tons of resources to help you find your best fit.
Take a look at these common trends for filling a gap year, but remember one of the most important goals for that year is staying organized and motivated. It’s a good idea to contact colleges about their outlook on gap years, deferred admissions policies and their own study abroad or gap year programs.
1. Explore, explore and explore some more.
There’s a whole world out there to see, and even more to do in it. If you have the means, take advantage of this open time and go somewhere you’ve never been. It could be a European backpacking trip or a tour of the American National Parks. According to the National Gap Association, 85 percent of students who took gap years stated it was for travel and experiencing other cultures.
The opportunities are endless as to where you can go. An important thing to keep in mind when choosing a location is what you want out of the trip. Some students may want to visit their neighboring states, or museum after museum learning what they aren’t exposed to in school. But others could want to be immersed in the country whose language they studied in high school. There is no wrong place to visit, but make sure it matches your goals. Take time planning the time away from home.
Remember some institutions will allow you to defer admission while you take a gap year, so if you want the same edge as your fellow seniors, apply during the normal submission period and ask about the college’s deferral options. That way, you’re all set for school the following year.
2. Pick up some work.
The expenses of college are no surprise. Applications are expensive; tuition can be a burden; being able to afford the necessary supplies for living on your own may not be possible. A little under one third of students who take gap years report that it was to gain work experience — which can help you pick up internships and jobs in the future. Gap years can be a time to try out work you love, or give you and your family time to save up money for the following year.
Within the various types of work, there are internships, which can give you work experience close to what you might want to study. There are also local jobs to help you save up day by day. Jobs or internships at big companies, organizations or institutions will probably be perceived better by colleges when you apply after a year off, but they also carry a lower probability of being paid. Pick a job that will give you what you want back: hands-on experience or support for your finances. (Maybe both if you’re lucky!)
3. Volunteer abroad or at home.
About 50 percent of gap year alumni list their reasoning as having time for volunteering. If you want to stay productive and give back without the strains of a daily job, or if you think traveling is too much leisure, then volunteering is another great option.
There are so many organizations that give students opportunities for volunteer work: Habitat for Humanity, Global Leadership Adventures and Global Vision International just to name a few. Each of these three represents the variety of options out there. Habitat for Humanity builds houses for the poor. Global Leadership Adventures offers teens a similar experience to the Peace Corps. Global Vision International focuses on improving the environment. There are a ton of different opportunities to fit different personalities. Before graduating high school, ask your counselors and teachers about any volunteer programs they think could be right for you.
“Gap Year Data & Benefits.” Gap Year Data | Gap Year Statistics | Benefits of a Gap Year, American Gap Association.