I know some of you are in that exciting time of year right now where you’re a senior in high school and considering what college to go to in the fall; and I know that decision is difficult enough on its own but I’m about to give you some insight on another option: a gap year.
A gap year is basically taking a year (or maybe just a semester) off between graduating high school and beginning college. Some people do it to take a breather because they’re feeling burnt out, some work, some do internships, some volunteer, and some travel. It’s the first time you have this much time to do anything you want to do, so the options are endless, and you don’t have to pick just one.
When you take a year off, you’re actually at an advantage in the competitive job market and college admissions. It can show self-motivation, a global awareness, and you quite literally have a full year to do nothing but build up your resume and fill your life with experiences to discuss with potential employers and to build networking connections. Lots of people come to college having never worked a job, and you have the opportunity to come in with job experience and it’s worth considering a domestic or international internship.
You can work on yourself and you get the chance to mature. I made a conscious effort to do the things I was afraid of and be more adventurous, became more independent, and grew as a person through having to be responsible for myself and the decisions I made while traveling. When you’re doing things like navigating a public transportation system in Australia and you can’t use Google Maps, suddenly the idea of going off to school isn’t so intimidating. And after taking the year off, it becomes much clearer what you’re looking for in both a career and a college experience, and you will be much more well informed in making your decisions.
If you decide to volunteer during your gap year, you can do good in the world. You can work locally by volunteering in homeless shelters, or even at your old elementary school. which is what I did when I wasn’t abroad. You can also go to another country and volunteer, which I’ll touch on more in a bit.
The biggest problem with gap years happens when you have a lack of planning, which can lead to too much time on your hands. If you don’t make at least a few firm plans for your gap year, you can end up lounging around the house, sleeping until 2pm (which is totally okay every once in a while, don’t get me wrong!) and possibly even losing your motivation. There were definitely times last year where I would be super down, felt like an actual potato, and was worried about being able to go back into a school environment at all.
Which brings me to my next point, some aspects of starting college become more difficult. While you may be at an advantage, aspects of your social life may become harder. I just started my freshman year of college about a month and a half ago, and there are times where I can’t really connect to the people around me, because in taking the year off, I did a lot of the maturing and learning that people do during their first year of college (the crazy drinking? Not so appealing anymore!). I’ve found myself hanging out with a lot of upperclassmen even though I’m not technically older than my freshman class since I graduated at sixteen, and then took the time off, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because upperclassmen are a fun time.
Working is a great option, and it’s what I did for a majority of my gap year. You can go into a mall and work retail, host or wait at a restaurant, work at a parent’s friend’s office, babysit, or nanny. When you don’t have to work around being in school, you have the chance to make WAY more money. When you’re going around from job interview to job interview, you learn about the best way to present yourself and what your strengths are, since you get asked ALL the time.
Interning is something interesting, which can be done locally or internationally. Personally, I decided to intern with a travel agency in my hometown, which allowed me to learn a lot more about the world, my own travel goals and also how to work efficiently with others. You can also intern abroad, which allows you to travel the world AND build your resume!
A Working Holiday does something similar to an internship abroad, and it’s not an option that a lot of people are familiar with. Australia and New Zealand have working holiday visas for U.S citizens between the ages of 18 and 30, where you get to work in the country for half the year, and then adventure and travel within the country with the money you made for half the year! Expect a lot more information about this since it’s my plan for after college.
Volunteering is also a great option, and so is Adventure Travel. You can do this through a tour group or company, like Rustic Pathways (which is the company I volunteered in Costa Rica through), or you can travel independently (which is what I did for Australia and New Zealand)! Rustic Pathways is super cool because they offer volunteer and adventure options for gap years, which can be found at http://gap.rusticpathways.com
Have a plan and goals before you take your year off! This can help to combat that potato-ness that tends to happen sometimes. Even if you don’t have your entire year planned out day by day, you at least have things to look forward to and work towards.
Mix it up! You don’t have to pick just one of the things I listed above. Personally, I volunteered in Costa Rica, worked/interned/volunteered locally, went to Canada, worked, and finished things out in New Zealand and Australia on a solo trip.
Know where you want to grow. Consider the areas where you want to grow as a person. Maybe you want to be more independent, more adventurous, or more outgoing. Have a couple of goals and make choices to help you work towards those goals..
A gap year is amazing, but it isn’t the best option for everyone; make sure you feel that it is for you before you decide to do it!
And as always, if you need advice hit up that contact page!