Three Cheers for Gap Years
“My guidance counselor suggested I take a gap year. You know, a year between high school and college where you take some courses, have some life experiences and get inspired and obviously work at The Gap.” - Modern Family
In the United States, people are generally encouraged and sometimes expected to move directly from high school to university, and from university to establishing their career. However, this is not the case everywhere, and in many countries, taking a gap year is the norm. It is seen as a way to allow students to step back from the stress of the academic world and gain some experience and perspective before making life-changing decisions about their futures.
The trend of taking a gap year is now finally starting to spread to the US as high school becomes more stressful and competitive, and college tuition increases. It also seems to pay off in the end: studies show that students who take a gap year arrive at university “refreshed and refocused” and perform better academically.
According to The American Gap Association, the number of students enrolling in gap-year programs increased 23 percent since 2015. Colleges themselves are even starting to encourage students to take a gap year, with the websites of institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Middlebury providing information about different programs.
Though not essential to a productive gap year, structured programs can be a good way to ensure that you make the most of your time off. Some of the most well-known ones include Cross-Cultural Solutions, Global Citizen Year, and CIEE. Thinking Beyond Borders is another program you can consider, working to give students and young adults the skills they need to succeed in a future career in the nonprofit or social services industries. A more comprehensive list can be found here.
Some programs, like WorkAway, can help facilitate finding employment or an internship abroad while also allowing for more and flexibility. They provide you with the tools you need to get settled abroad, ensuring that you have a source of income and/or qualify for a work visa and then allow you to live independently while existing as a support system when necessary.
If you don’t think a program is for you, another option to consider is spending the year working or getting an internship to gain experience and explore fields you may be interested in. Traveling is also a popular way to spend a gap year, with people doing things like volunteering abroad, teaching English, or working as an au pair to fund their travels.
No matter how you spend your gap year, it can be a valuable chance to explore new interests or passions and figure out what you want before starting the next phase of your life.