Having your life planned out right out of high school isn't easy. You need time to figure out what you like and, more importantly - to have fun! Your youth should be full of great memories you’ve made with friends and family, not plagued by the stress of choosing a career path. Some students just need to take a beat before they can throw themselves into college. If that sounds like you, you may want to consider taking a gap year.
What is a gap year?
So what exactly is a gap year? A gap year is a 12-month break that most students take just after high school before they join college. During these 12 months, you can use your time to apply to colleges, take up a job, pick up a new skill or even just relax. There are also many different terms for a gap year. The terms "gap year" and "prep year," as well as "defer year," "bridge year," "drop year," "year out," "year off," and "overseas experience or foundation year," are also frequently used to refer to a gap year. The name sometimes depends on your plans for your year off, the nation you're in, and occasionally the institution you want to attend after it's finished.
Types of gap years
Depending on what you decide to do with your time, you can take a couple of different types of gap years. None of these is mutually exclusive, and these aren't your only options! There are tons of things you can do during your year off, and here are a few of them:
- Travelling gap year: You can choose to use your gap year to travel around the world, or even just around your own country. Soak in whatever culture that you can and who knows, you may even finish up the year with your own (hopefully real) version of Joey Tribbiani’s Mount Tibidabo story- backpacking across Europe story!
- Working gap year: A hard truth of life you’ll realise once you leave college is that employers don’t want to hire anyone without experience, which eventually leads to every new graduate to the inescapable catch-22 - how do you get experience without having experience? You get ahead! Working odd jobs during your year off is a great way to earn money and get experience that will help you in your future career.
- Studying gap year: We know what you’re thinking, why would I study on my gap year? It's a fair question because most people take a gap year to avoid studying, but a year off is a good opportunity to try out a field that you’re new to and can’t quite commit to yet. Many students use this time to take short courses and narrow their primary educational focus.
- Volunteering gap year: A common way to spend your year off is by volunteering with different non-profit organisations. It's a great way to spend your time productively and help gain some perspective on what you want to do with your time. You don’t need to commit to social work forever, but spending some time working towards the greater good before you enter into the soul-sucking corporate world, is good for the soul.
When to take a gap year?
Students typically choose to take gap years before big phases of their lives, which usually means taking time off just before or just after college is over. However, you may choose to take a year off whenever you want, provided your current educational institution is okay with it. Some students even take time off in the middle of college and resume their studies once they are done. If you’re worried about what employers or college interviewers will say about your year off, we’ve got some tips on how to explain a gap year on your CV.
What to do in a gap year?
If you’re even considering taking a year off, the million-dollar question then becomes - what to do in a gap year? And to be very honest, there’s no right or wrong answer. It's up to you to decide what you want to do during your time off. You can take up a class, go travelling, spend time with your family or even spend your time applying or researching for colleges. If you’re struggling to pinpoint exactly what to do during your gap year, here are some gap year ideas to get you started:
1. Learn a language
French, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, German - the world is full of new languages you can learn. Learning a new language is a great way to keep your mind sharp and broaden your worldview. As the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Check out some of the best language-learning apps and get started ASAP!
2. Pick up a new instrument
Learning a musical instrument has a number of benefits. It increases your cognitive skills and improves your physical ability by strengthening muscle memory. Who knows, you may even uncover a hidden passion for music and the music industry.
3. Try a new sport
School and college don't always leave you enough time to pursue hobbies that’ll take up a lot of your time. If you love adventure and outdoor sports, a gap year is the perfect time to pursue some of those interests. Take up running, swimming, rock climbing or go on hiking trips with friends. Not having any commitment to work or college allows you to set aside time exclusively for yourself.
4. Enrol in some online classes
With platforms like Coursera, domestika and even several colleges' websites that offer courses to students, a gap year is a great time to enrol in a class you’ve always wanted to take. Think of a subject you've always wanted to study but never got a chance to explore and find an online course to enrol in.
5. Travel to a new country
Once you’re tied down to a college or a job, travelling kind of takes a backseat, if you’re someone that has always wanted to travel the world but hasn’t had the chance, a gap year is a perfect time to do so. There are many ways you can travel around the world on a budget. Staying with friends or in student hostels is a great way to save money when travelling abroad.
6. Apply to colleges and take entrance exams
College essays, letters of recommendation, entrance tests and interviews - college applications aren't easy. Many students take a year off just so they focus on their applications and prepare for tests like the GRE, GMAT, SAT and ACT.
Benefits of a gap year
If you want to have a successful gap year, you need to go into it with the right mindset. Instead of focusing on what you could have been doing instead of pursuing a gap year, like going to college or maybe joining your family business, you need to focus on what you’ll gain from taking a year off. There are many great benefits of gap years like:
1. Gain valuable experience
Whether you work or travel, a year off is a great way for you to gain more life experience. If you choose to travel, you’ll get to enrich your life with cultural experiences you could never find in a classroom. Travelling alone instils a sense of independence in you that you’ll be glad you have. On the other hand, if you choose to take a job or learn a new skill you’ll add feathers to your cap that will make you more employable and better prepared for your future career.
2. Better your mental health
We can’t all have the luxury of being mentally stable. Being a student comes with it a lot pressure, and many sadly do crumble under it. A gap year is a great time for students to take some time off, reflect on what truly matters to them and work on their mental health. College can be very overwhelming, especially if you’re not already in a good mental state. A gap year is like the first sip of a nice cold bottle of Sprite that instantly refreshes your mind and puts you in a better mood.
3. Discover your interests
It starts when you’re only five years old, and your aunt asks, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re only five, of course, so you say you want to be an astronaut or a dancer, and that's that. But as you get older, it doesn't just stop there. A simple question that once incited hope and ambition in you now fills you with existential dread. You can’t just stop at astronaut, you need an entire game plan. Sounds stressful, doesn't it? Well, it doesn't need to be. A gap year is the perfect time for you to discover what it is you actually enjoy so you can finally have answer ready when someone asks you what you want to be.
Gap Year programs 2023
Now if we’ve sufficiently convinced you that a gap year is the way to go, but you need help deciding what to do, you’ll be happy to know that there are a ton of organizations that are dedicated to planning out gap years for students. The best way to choose what to do in a gap year is to think o your goals and pick a program that helps you meet them. Here’s some of our top picks of the best 2023 gap year programs:
- Volunteer in Ghana: There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve made a difference & volunteering in Ghana could be a great opportunity.
- Enjoy adventure sports in South Africa: Craving some adventure? The aptly named Warriors Academy has a range of programs you can choose from.
- Learn a language in Costa Rica: Pasa tu año gao haciendo algo asombroso! Learn to translate that phrase without Google after an immersive Spanish learning experience.
That was everything you needed to know about gap years. If a gap year sounds like the right choice for you, then go ahead and do it! Those 12 months can bring you some of the most unforgettable memories that you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life. So if you’re looking for a sign to finally bite the bullet and embark on your gap year, this is it. Take a leap of faith!