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How to Make Your Gap Year Count

June 12, 2018
Written by Taylor

Taking off a year between high school and college, also known as a “gap” year, is becoming increasingly popular, but how can you be sure that taking a gap year is a good idea for you?

There are two main reasons that you might want to take a gap year. First, you can use the time to gain work or other kinds of experience. Sometimes, working for a year can help students earn money to pay for college. Other times, students can use the time to explore research or other academic interests in order to create a more concrete plan for college. Second, you can use a gap year to take a break from studying, which is especially helpful when students are feeling lethargic from an intense high school experience. Students who simply want a break often spend this time traveling, volunteering, or pursuing a non-academic passion.

So, how do you actually take a gap year? First, we always recommend that students interested in a gap year ask to defer their acceptance at college. Having a plan for post-gap year is often crucial to help students structure their time and prevent stagnation. In some cases, schools have developed their own gap year programs with dedicated funding. Some examples are UNC’s Global Gap Year Fellowship, Princeton’s Bridge Year, and Tufts’s 1+4 Program. These programs are often focused on service learning abroad, which can be especially fulfilling for participants who want to expand their personal horizons. Other schools have specific policies around deferring for a year, so make sure you talk to admissions. In some cases, you have to reapply entirely, since the school won’t hold your spot for you. In other cases, you might simply need to reapply for merit scholarships and/or financial aid. In any case, it’s best to understand exactly what each school requires for students who take gap years.

Once you have a handle on your college plans after the gap year, it’s time to decide what you want to do. Having a reasonable set of goals will add value to your experience and help you grow as a person. Here are a few suggestions for what you can do for a year:

  1. Find an internship or research position that is related to your potential major or career. You need to start looking for these kinds of positions early, since many organizations post internship opportunities for the summer starting in January. You should use sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Indeed to search for such positions, and make sure your resume is up to date! You can also reach out to local contacts who might be able to help you network or land an internship.
  2. Become a long-term volunteer with an organization that inspires you. This organization can be in your city or outside of it, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Speak to the volunteer coordinator about your skills and interests; consider how what you can do will benefit the organization. Of course, once you begin volunteering, treat it like a job. What you do as a long-term volunteer can have an important influence on your future career.
  3. Travel meaningfully. If you want to use your gap year to travel, think about volunteering in a different country; your work elsewhere can help improve the world. You can also use this as an opportunity to improve your language skills. You can take dedicated courses or simply live fully in the language, but either way, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new country. Traveling can also give you a way to experience new cultures; when you go to a new place, find ways to participate in the social life of your host country. Sometimes it can be as simple as going to the local market; other times, you may want to dive into activities around a major festival or holiday in that country.

Regardless of what you choose, make sure to have fun and take a few (calculated!) risks! Taking a gap year is a wonderful time to open up your life. You can try getting experience in a brand new field, or develop a skill you’ve never had a chance to work on. Challenge yourself to take on a leadership role. Meet new people from many walks of life. And finally, learn about yourself.

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