It sometimes feels as though your time in high school is simply spent focusing on your academic future. Sure, you might get distracted by gossip floating through the cafeteria or who you’ll take to the semi-formal. However, by and large, the courses you select, the grades you earn and sometimes even the activities in which you participate all seem like a means to an end. And that end, of course, is college. But what if you’re not sure you want college to be your immediate next step?
It’s often assumed that students will (and should) seamlessly segue from high school to college. After all, it’s a way to taste a little bit of freedom while still being sheltered from the “real world.” Further, it appears to be the most logical and straightforward way to continue your education. However, sometimes students don’t feel ready or prepared for college. There are those who want to take a breather from the pressures of the classroom. And there are others who long to indulge in their wanderlust. Moreover, plenty of students standing on the precipice of their high school graduation feel lost and unsure of what they want to pursue. Rest assured these are all perfectly natural and justified sentiments. And, if you count yourself among these ranks, you might want to consider taking a gap year.
Before your parents start to hyperventilate, a gap year in no way means saying sayonara to college forever. Nor does it translate into extending your summer vacation for another twelve months. And certainly, a gap year is not a way of patting yourself on the back for enduring high school. Instead, it’s an opportunity for personal growth and for exploration. It’s a time that will grant you perspective, maybe offer direction and allow you the chance to return to school refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose.
So, while this all sounds well and good, you might be wondering what exactly you should do with a gap year. Certainly, having a plan in hand is essential for a successful gap year. To that end, we present a few suggestions:
Volunteering is a fantastic way to step outside of yourself and your own needs/desires. Through volunteering, you’ll become more familiar with a cause you find important. You will also have the opportunity to gain exposure to a diverse group of people. You’ll learn about issues facing the world, issues that might impact what you ultimately choose to study in college. And certainly, by giving back, you’re bound to feel a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Travel or Live Abroad
There’s perhaps no better way to inject a sense of excitement and adventure into your gap year than through traveling or living abroad. Traveling automatically whisks you out of your comfort zone and quickly exposes you to new customs and cultures. It forces you to confront pre-conceived notions and alters the way you see the world, your hometown and yourself. You interact with new people and new ideas. You see art and artifacts first hand. Lest we forget - it’s also a fabulous way to sharpen your language skills. Truly, when traveling, every day becomes an education.
Join the Military
All right, so joining the military is a commitment that will last long beyond the traditional gap year. However, if you’re unsure of your next step(s), it might be a good alternative. By enlisting in the military, you’re likely to gain confidence, self-respect and strengthen your work ethic. Moreover, your training will expose you to different types of jobs and allow you to develop various skill-sets. Beyond that, you’ll be earning a paycheck and money you can put towards your education. And, of course, you will earn respect, gratitude and admiration from your family, your peers and your country.
Seek out an Internship or Apprenticeship
Internships and/or apprenticeships are a phenomenal option for your gap year. They allow you the opportunity to explore an industry and potential career track. You can learn about the different facets that comprise the company and discover the various paths one might take to get there. Additionally, an internship (whether successful or not), could likely inform your choice of a college major. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll make contacts you can hopefully use in the future.
Find a Job
Whether you’re delivering pizzas, sorting mail at an insurance company or building websites, working a 9-5 job is a great way to spend a gap year. Sure, it might not be the most glamorous or exotic option. However, it’ll give you a great taste of and insight into the working world. You’ll get a better sense of how a company operates, learn how to conduct yourself in a professional environment and create another line for your resume. Of course, you’ll also earn cash you can potentially put toward college. Finally, all those hours of toil will likely give you a greater appreciation of the benefits of an education.
Take a Class at a Local College
We recognize that this might sound contradictory to a gap year. After all, why would you take a break from school only to end up right back inside a classroom? Hear us out. By taking a class or two as a non-degree seeking student, you get to experience what a college course is like without the pressures of being a full-time undergrad. You don’t necessarily have to fret about fulfilling requirements. You can choose a class on a random topic that you’ve always been curious about but never explored. Or you can select a course completely on a whim, one that might ultimately lead you down an academic path you never thought possible. Plus, by limiting your course-load, you still leave time to pursue one of the other aforementioned options. Lastly, you’ll likely be able to put the credits you earn toward your degree (and save some money in the process).
We recommend still applying to college even if you’re strongly considering taking a gap year. It’s much easier to organize all the paperwork (transcripts, recommendations, etc.) while you’re enrolled in high school. And it’s easier to slog through your applications when you have the support of your parents and guidance counselor (and while you’re watching your peers complete them too). Plus, it’ll be nice to not have to shoulder the weight of applications during said gap year. And don’t worry about having to choose between attending your dream school or taking advantage of a gap year. Most schools will let you defer your enrollment. In fact, some universities even advocate that their students do so (though it’s never mandatory). Just make sure you submit the proper paperwork and requests by the necessary deadlines.
Gap years are really an incredible opportunity to take risks, stretch beyond your comfort zone and get to know yourself a little better. If you’re feeling unsure or burnt out, think about taking a breather from the classroom. After all, there’s no set and/or strict path in life. Take a chance, deviate a little and see where the adventure takes you!