For some high school seniors, especially in these uncertain times, delaying their college education may be the best choice. Maybe you want to take advantage of this newfound free time to take a gap year and pursue one of your passions.
A gap year — which, fittingly, bridges the gap between high school and college — can include bucket-list-worthy travel opps, dream internships, volunteer experience, and more. It’s also worth noting, however, that you don’t even have to leave your hometown to reap the benefits of a gap year, which is defined by The Gap Year Association as “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.” A gap year can also be a great choice for students who are looking to grow their savings account without trekking halfway around the world. For example, one may choose to live at home, work at a local business, and use their earnings to help them pay for college tuition or other expenses.
If you’re one of many high school seniors who are reconsidering their plans for next year and are looking into gap year options, here’s everything you need to know before taking the leap.
Gap years have become increasingly popular in recent years — especially in the United States. (In European countries, like Great Britain, for example, students have been taking gap years since the ‘60s and ‘70s.) In fact, a handful of prestigious schools actually encourage students to take a gap year, including Harvard, which even has a page on their website dedicated to gap years. “We encourage admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way,” their website states. Princeton University also offers a nine-month, tuition-free “bridge program” so students can spend time volunteering abroad.
To tell if a gap year is right for you, ask yourself some key questions, such as:
1. What are my goals?
Jot some notes down and spend some time thinking about what you hope to achieve in five years. Do you know what you want to be when you grow up (do any of us?) Once you have an idea (or even a semblance of an idea) of where you want to be in five years, you can move on to questions #2…
2. How will a gap year help me achieve these goals?
What is it about a gap year — as opposed to traditional college courses — that will help you attain your goal? Maybe it’s that you’ll have the opportunity to volunteer as a teacher before actually committing to an education major. Or maybe you think your volunteer experience as a teacher will expand your horizons before you take the plunge into higher education and increased independence.
3. Do I feel motivated to do all of this extra research?
If the answer is yes, then congrats! You’re on the right path. It’s time to start scouring the interwebs and do your research! For example, if you want to teach abroad, do you need to complete any type of training or certification in order to do so? Do you have the right documents to travel overseas (i.e. a valid passport)? What will you do about housing? Is it safe to travel to that location right now? These are all important things to consider (and plan for) before taking the leap.
4. Am I willing and ready to put in the time, effort, and work to make the most out of the gap year?
In order for you to get the most out of your gap year, you’ll need to put in the work. This is the challenging part — not only because it’s time-consuming, but also because it can be overwhelming. If you’re really motivated to take a gap year, however, you’ll feel excited and determined to come up with a plan that works for you.
5. Do I have the financial resources to fund my gap year?
Gap years can be expensive (depending on what kind of experience you’re seeking). Do you have the funds to support your gap year dreams? If the answer is no, that brings us to our next point…
6. Are you open to alternate options?
Ask yourself if you’re open to 8-week programs (as opposed to year-long ones), or options that offer compensation, like Service Year, or working as an Au Pair, tutor, or ski instructor. The options are limitless — just get creative! And, while you can always apply for scholarships and financial aid, it’s always good to have a Plan B.
According to a study conducted by the American Gap Association…
Of course, there are other benefits, too. A gap year can help you become more independent, and also affords you the opportunity to learn more about new cultures and form bonds with people of all different backgrounds. At the same time, you may gain invaluable work and volunteer experience.
If you’re looking for personal testimonials from actual gap year alumns, simply do a quick Google search. (You’ll see a bunch of different programs and students pop up.)
Lastly, if you’re reconsidering your plans for next year, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. No matter what you choose to do — gap year or no gap year — know that there’s no wrong decision as long as you trust your gut! (Except when somebody offers you a piece of pizza. ALWAYS take the pizza.)