An Option Beyond Colleges and Universities: The 'Gap Year'

Instead of heading directly to college, many new high school graduates take a gap year to explore new interests and parts of the world. Take a look at some gap year programs below and decide if this is a good option for you.

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Gap Year Defined

A gap year is traditionally defined as a year off between the end of high school and the start of your college career. Gap years were designed to help students expand their development, so if you plan to take a gap year, ideally you would do something you've never done before. Some ideas include:

  • International travel
  • International volunteer
  • Practical work experience

Some people take time off between college graduation and the start of their new careers, which is also considered a gap year.

Options

While many gap year activities do cost money, you don't have to have a lot of it to take a year off. If you want to save money for college, taking a year off to work is one way to gain experience and make money at the same time. If travel is in your plans, you can find several organizations and companies that don't charge a lot of money for their programs or that let you travel for free in exchange for work on your part. Before you take your year off, take some time to research the opportunities available and see what works best for you.

International Volunteer

Choosing an international volunteer experience for your gap year means you can combine travel with the opportunity to help others. As an international volunteer, you might teach English, work in orphanages, work with animals or on a farm or volunteer in health clinics at a variety of locations throughout the world. You'll learn about the countries you visit by immersing yourself in the communities you serve or living with a local family and learning the local language and customs.

Travel

You can choose to travel somewhere new on your own or with family or friends during your gap year, or you can find an organization that offers structured travel programs. These programs often combine travel with educational experiences or volunteer projects. For example, you might learn about the history and culture of New Zealand by staying with a host family or you can explore a new country through wilderness adventures that teach you survival skills at the same time.

Work

Working between high school and college is one way to explore your interests before deciding on a major. Since your experience up to this point is limited, you might have a hard time finding meaningful work on your own. To get real-world experience at a company that you're interested in, consider some of the organizations that can help you find an internship or work placement in such areas as business, science, engineering or finance, to name a few.

Advantages and Considerations

Taking a gap year can have a variety of benefits. By exploring your interests outside of a college setting, you might have a clearer idea of what you want to major in once you get to school. Getting a firsthand look at different cultures and ways of life can help you increase your self-awareness while acquiring skills you can apply towards your career. A gap year experience might also open up new career options that you hadn't considered before.

Keep in mind though, that many of the organizations that offer gap year programs charge a fee. You'll also need to secure the proper paperwork, such as a passport or visa, if you plan to travel internationally.

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