What is a gap year?
Is a gap year valuable?
What can I do during a gap year?
FAQs about gap years
Where do I get started?
What is a gap year?
A “gap year” describes any break in the traditional high school-college-grad school pipeline. It is a unique opportunity to gain life experiences and personal growth. During a gap year, you can travel the world, work at a startup, learn an art form or develop a skill. You can take a gap year before you apply to college, after you’re accepted to college OR while still enrolled in school (i.e., taking a leave of absence).
Could a gap year be as simple as eating Cheetos and demolishing seasons of Netflix series?
Sure, but you’re probably better than that ;).
Excited? Nervous? That’s okay. Gap years may seem new or controversial, but, they’ve been common practice in Europe for decades. The trend is gaining traction in the U.S. too; even top universities like Harvard are encouraging their best applicants to take a year off before enrolling. But hey, if you want to define a gap year, check out Wikipedia.
You’re here to find out what a gap year actually looks like and how you can get closer to taking one today.
Is a gap year valuable?
Taking a gap year is immensely valuable, regardless of your goals. A few stats from a national survey of gappers reveal:
81% were very likely to recommend taking a gap year to someone considering it.
Gappers had shorter times to graduation and higher GPAs as compared to national norms.
Gappers currently experience higher levels of job satisfaction and civic participation as compared to national norms.
Students who had taken a Gap Year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than similar individuals who went straight to college.
And to finally put this Cheetos myth to rest, this chart shows the most significant experiences gappers had
Don’t think of a gap year as time off. A gap year is an investment in a more fulfilling future.
What can I do during a gap year?
The beauty of a gap year is you’re free to do whatever you want. So what can you do during yours? Well, it depends on your interests.
You can travel.
You can find deeper meaning.
You can build a more robust resume before going back to school.
You can explore a creative passion that school gets in the way of.
You can strengthen your athletic ‘portfolio’
Or you can do whatever you want and never look back.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Gap Years
Q. Won’t taking a gap year make me a less-valuable prospect for college admissions officers?
A. Absolutely not! More and more college admissions officers are encouraging students to take a year off before coming to college (e.g., Harvard admissions). Taking a gap year could even make you a more valuable candidate. Students who take gap years can develop unique experiences, avoid academic burnout, and gain more insight into what they want from their education. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover that the traditional college path isn’t for you.
Q. What about grad school?
A. This applies to graduate school admissions, as well. People who take a year off before applying to graduate school signal to admissions committees that they are serious about their field. Too often, people apply to graduate school simply because they don’t know what else to do. So admitting people applicants who have taken gap years helps grad schools keep drop rates low and yield rates high. The same goes for professional programs (e.g., law school, medical school, MBA-programs). Work experience offers a practical and valuable perspective that most students lack.
Q. Could this harm my chances with job recruiters?
A. Employers are also happy to see students who have taken time off from school. Students who took a gap year are more likely to have real work experience. So many of young people have been schooled for 16-straight years and lack any practical work experience. Showing you can work in the ‘real world’ is more valuable than any class or extracurricular activity. It demonstrates you can do tangible work outside of school.
Q. I’m interested in taking a gap year after high school, but I don’t want to discount the idea of going to college. What should I do?
A. Defer admission. This means you follow the normal college application process in your senior year of high school. Once you’re accepted, contact the admissions department asking if you can defer your admission for a year. You would then have one year to pursue a gap year before you would start classes. Most colleges and universities allow you to do this without penalty. The best part is, you keep your place for when you want to go (i.e., you don’t have to apply to be admitted again). This keeps the risk of the gap year low, while keeping the potential reward high.
Q. Won’t deferring admission mean I lose my financial aid and scholarships?
A. If a school offers you a financial aid package, it is most likely designated as an 8-semester package. So you will get financial aid so long as you finish college in a total of 8 semesters. The gap year doesn’t count against these semesters.
Independent scholarship specifications may vary. These decisions are at the discretion of the awarding organization, and may or may not be affected by a gap year.
When you speak with admissions and financial aid officers, it can be helpful to state your interest in a gap year. Show how you will be taking a year to enrich your experience and that you hope to bring back with you as a student of their university.
Q. I want to take a gap year, but I don’t know how to talk to my family about it! They seem to think it would be a bad idea.
A. It can be difficult to win over family members on a gap year because it’s a new concept. This can be a new and uncommon idea for older generations. They may be anxious that you’re wasting time or not thinking clearly. They may worry you’ll regret your decision.
This can be frustrating, but it’s important to empathize with them. Emphasize that you are taking the gap year to grow intellectually, professionally, and/or emotionally. Develop a specific plan with measurable goals. Explain how this isn’t an irreversible decision. This way they know you will be a better person who is better equipped to handle college and the professional world.
Q. I want to take a gap year, but I don’t know where to start! You talk about not just lazing around during the gap year, but what if I don’t find anything to do?
A. Making sure that the gap year is productive — in whatever way you define this is very important (i.e., if you think learning poetry or art is productive, then that counts; if you think working is productive, then that counts; if you think traveling is productive, then that counts). Check out examples of successful gap years here or look into gap year resources here. There are plenty of programs that can make your gap year worthwhile.
Q. I may like to do a gap year, but I’m already accepted to college/have my eyes on a school.
A. Many of the students who would most flourish during a gap year are those who have worked the hardest. They may have been very involved throughout high school and set their eyes on one or two dream schools.
While it can be intimidating to walk away from that hard work, it’s only temporary. Once accepted to a school, you can pursue deferred enrollment. Most universities and colleges allow accepted students to take one academic year off without giving up their admission. This means a student can be accepted to their dream school, tell the school they’ll be back in a year, and the school will let them come back in that year.
Q. I am worried about putting a gap in my education.
A. The gap year is only a ‘gap’ if you let it be that. Many students find that a gap year is educational in terms of life experience. Furthermore, this year is a great time to develop valuable skills. You could take a programming class, get a job in a specialized field, or launch a project of your own — this freedom and flexibility can be really hard to find in a traditional college environment.
Q. I’ve never done anything but school!
A. Then a gap year is perfect for you. Many students who take gap years are those who are burnt out from school and find it difficult to imagine themselves doing something else. During this time, they go work, travel, participate in programs like Praxis, and gain new skills. Taking the risk of doing something different for a year can be life-changing.
Q. I’m afraid it would look bad on a resume.
A. If you spend your gap year working or learning new skills, then it can actually distinguish your resume! If you take a gap year taken before college, it probably won’t factor into a later resume anyway. If you take one after college however, it often makes your resume more impressive. It shows that after exploring other options, you’re still dedicated to your area of study. Graduate schools are looking for applicants who are focused and dedicated.
Students have taken gap years and gained work experience display these qualities more strongly than those who have done nothing but school.
Where Do I Get Started?
You now know what a gap year is, why a gap year is valuable, and what you can do. But how do you get started TODAY? Below are a few examples and top resources, depending on your interests.
Ryan & Amanda traveled around the globe following their undergraduate education. Since then, they’ve launched a podcast on travel, yoga, and they both blog about their adventures consistently. Check out these resources for volunteer opportunities abroad, solo trip-planning, and communities of travelers.
Drew, a graduate from a top-10 high school took a two-year leave of absence for his Mormon mission in Boston. He returned rejuvenated and completely changed his course of study. There are tons of domestic volunteer opportunities whether your interest is in public service or spiritual development.
Nolan knew he wanted to pursue a career in urban planning. However, he found working taking some time off to work, teach, and publish bolstered his application, which helped get him into one of the top programs for Urban Planners in the country. Whether you want to be an academic, a doctor, a lawyer, these programs can help you stand out from other professional school applicants.
Lucy Dacus went to art school for almost a year before realizing it was stalling her performance. School took time away from working on her music. Well, she took time off and has played at SXSW, Lollapalooza, and just recently signed a record deal with Matador Records. If you don’t want to rule out school but want more time to grow creatively, check out this list of resources.
Sasha Dijulian is one of the best rock climbers in the world. Before attending Columbia University, she took a year to focus on travelling, climbing, and competing. It seems to have paid off. Not even an Ivy League education can earn you a Red Bull sponsorship.
Maybe you can be like Derek, and turn your gap year into a gap life. Derek dropped out of University of Michigan as a sophomore. Since then, he’s worked as Director of Marketing at Praxis, flown over 70,000 miles on Delta Airlines (visiting Canada, Iceland, Ecuador, Belgium, France, Germany, Czech Republic, and Tokyo, in addition to flying all over the USA), and released an ebook: “How to Get Any Job You Want” with over 1,000 downloads. And that’s the short version.
Here are our top 7 recommended programs to kick off your gap year:
- Praxis: Apprentice full time at successful startup and continue your education experience. You’ll shadow founders and CEOs, complete self-directed projects, receive 1-on-1 professional coaching, and develop transferable skills and experiences that you can take anywhere.
- Make School: a two year college replacement program for founders and developers. Learn industry skills by making and launching your own products!
- Uncollege: helps young people pursue their interests through learning relevant skills and gaining real world experience. Travel, learn, and intern.
- Koch Associate Program: A 10-month program combining full-time work at a Washington, DC, area non-profit organization with professional education.
- Venture for America: a nonprofit program that places our best and brightest at startups in emerging cities, helping build businesses, create jobs, and make an impact.
- Global Vision International: an organization that provides volunteer and internship opportunities in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. GVI has sent more than 25,000 volunteers overseas on programs ranging from construction, to animal care, to education, and beyond with 95% of past volunteers stating they would want to travel again with them again
- Habitat for Humanity: a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry that builds with people in need regardless of race or religion. They have more than 1,400 local affiliates in the U.S. and more than 70 national organizations around the world.
Do you need more help?
Unsure of what to do next? Do you have gap year questions that weren’t answered above? Reach out [firstname.lastname@example.org] and I’ll be glad to help you out. I’ll even send you the How To Take A Gap Year e-book for free!
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