There is a point in time in many high school students’ careers when every adult is suddenly asking them what they want to do with their lives. It is no longer the slightly endearing question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead, it becomes “Where are you going to college? What are you going to study? How are you going to support yourself?” – the list goes on. Some students have answers. Some do not.
Between these questions and burnout from high school studies, you might end up taking a gap year before starting college. If you do, you are not alone. Think about it: twelve straight years of school is a long time, and going straight into an undergraduate program brings that up to around sixteen. You might know who you are as a student, and maybe you’ve been working a part-time job since you got a drivers’ license, but have you been given the space to know yourself? Are you looking at programs specific to your interest or one that your parents believe is a good idea? Do you want, really want, to go college right away?
Is a gap year worth the time?
Studies have shown that students who have taken a structured gap year come back with more passion for learning after being outside the classroom. Some students also show greater maturity. According to Time, gap year students earned 0.15 to 0.2 points higher GPA on a 4.0 scale than students who did not take a year off. The American Gap Association says about 90% of students who plan a gap year do go to college at the end of it (for more gap year statistics, click here).
What should you do when you take a gap year?
So what should you do with a gap year? That ultimately depends on you, but be sure that there is some structure to it. Some students spend their time volunteering and working on their own. This is useful for gaining experience in a given field. If you are going to be in charge of paying for college, it also allows you to save up some money so student loans do not affect you as much. If you know exactly what college you want to go to and it’s out of state, you could feasibly move to that state and earn in-state tuition (depending on the school, that can be a major benefit if you want to keep costs down).
Here are some gap year resources:
Programs such as Global Gap Year, the Center for Interim Programs, and others like them allow for students to travel the world and explore other cultures and countries. This is a great way to expand your understanding of people and the world. A well-rounded student can apply more of what is learned in the classroom to what is around them. Some schools (such as Princeton University) even have fellowship programs where you defer your enrollment for a year abroad. Though few American universities currently have these programs, you can always talk to your prospective school and ask how to defer enrollment for a year.
Taking a gap year before college can also give you time to renew your passion for interests that school cut out. You can work on your novel, or become a dog breeder, or finally rebuild that classic car in the garage. Allow yourself to focus on something productive that makes you happy in addition to your job or volunteer work. You might discover that the career path you thought you wanted in high school has shifted, or it might stay the same. Either way, you will have learned something about yourself that a classroom couldn’t necessarily teach you right away.