Planning for College Taking Time Off

Should You Take a Year Off Before or During College?

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While many students choose to attend college right out of high school, this option isn’t for everyone. Every year, college students and soon-to-be college students play with the idea of taking a year off from college, or a “gap year” as it is known around the world. Though some parents and educators may frown upon it, the gap year is a common practice throughout the world. In fact, many countries including Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom actually encourage students to take a gap year before or during their post-secondary studies. After a number of years, the practice is finally gaining some traction here in the United States!

When planning for the future and considering your options, it’s important not to rule out taking some time off. Many believe that a gap year can be incredibly beneficial to students and even help with success in their futures. In fact, a number of notable figures including Princes William and Harry, T.S. Eliot, John McCain, and Bill Clinton all took gap years at some point during their academic careers.

To help you decide whether a gap year is a right fit, we’ve put together a list of some of the benefits and options available for students who are considering a gap year.

Benefits

A number of studies have shown that there are some amazing benefits for students who take gap years. These go far beyond earning some extra cash and actually translate into lifelong skills. Read on to learn how you can benefit from taking some time off from college.

Time to consider your options

While some students may leave high school knowing exactly what they want for their future, it’s not uncommon for others to have no idea what they want to do. Who can blame them, after all they have spent the last twelve or more years in school! Apart from the occasional extracurricular activity, most students have had very little opportunity to explore interests outside of sports or academics.

Students who take some time off before or during college get the opportunity to learn about themselves, discover their passions, and figure out what they would like for their futures. Not only does this help to lay out a career path, but it also saves time and money that could have been spent on the wrong classes or programs entirely.

Gain life experience

Freshman year is a trying time for some students. Not only are you trying to perform well in your classes, but you’re also learning to look after yourself, adjusting to a new city, making new friends, and trying to enjoy the whole experience. It’s a lot to handle for a young adult! One thing that can help ease the transition is a little bit of life experience.

Students who return from a gap year often find that they are better adjusted than their peers because they had the opportunity to ease into new responsibilities as opposed to being thrown in head-first. Gap years provide the opportunity to meet people outside of your existing social circle, have brand new experiences, and learn outside of a classroom.

There truly is no substitute for life experience, and the only way to gain it is by living! From navigating your way through a new city to assembling your first piece of IKEA furniture, some things just have to be learned through experiences. A gap year will provide plenty of them!

Realign your focus

It’s easy to become bogged down with homework, student loans, and high expectations. At certain points, it can feel like your motivation is gone and you’re barely coasting through college. One possible solution to reignite that fire and passion you once had is to take a year off. During a gap year, students have the opportunity to step back, take a break from the stress, re-examine their goals, and return to their education with a renewed sense of focus.

Studies have found that students who take a gap year show a clear pattern of higher GPAs than their peers who did not. While one theory is that this is due to these students being more mature, many believe that the gap year experience itself plays a role. 

For some students, working a job they dislike is enough to motivate them through their studies. Others volunteer and discover new passions that they never knew they had. Some students find that they simply need to step away and get a chance to relax and breathe before deciding to commit to another 4+ years of school. Whatever the reasoning behind it, there is no doubt that a gap year plays a role in a student’s successes.

Earn school credits outside the classroom

Just because you aren’t in school doesn’t mean that you aren’t learning. You can take advantage of this and actually earn college credits during a gap year. Several different programs exist to cater to your unique interests and areas of study. Be aware that there are a number of requirements that must be met in order to be eligible for these sorts of programs. You must be a current college student on gap year, or have been accepted into college and deferred your admission to the following year or semester.  If this is something that appeals to you, it’s best to speak to your school’s academic adviser. Eligibility, requirements, and the number of credits you can earn will vary between different schools and programs.

Options

So you’ve read about some of the benefits and you think that a gap year could be in your future. Great! Now the question is: what are you going to do with your time off? There are endless options for how you can spend a gap year, and you don’t need to limit yourself to just one. We’ve outlined some of the most common ways to spend a gap year, and provided some different options within each category.

Working

One of the most common ways students choose to spend their year off college is working. It’s a popular option for students right out of high school who want to earn some money to put towards college to avoid taking out student loans. While you may think that your only job options are to get a low-paying retail job at the local mall, there are a ton of different opportunities to explore!

  1. Apprenticeships
    Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to gain work experience, explore potential career paths, and of course, earn some money! There are a huge number of apprenticeships available in almost every field imaginable. With a little research, you should be able to find an apprenticeship that suits your interests. As an added bonus, apprenticeships provide the opportunity to make industry connections. These can benefit you further down the road should you choose to pursue a career in that field.
  2. Internships
    While very similar to an apprenticeship,  an internship is slightly different in that it is a short-term temporary position as opposed to a long-term position. You’ll find similar benefits to the ones you’d get with an apprenticeship including industry connections. Something to be aware of is that not all internships are paid. Some may offer college credit instead, and others may simply be focused on gaining work experience. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions when looking into different internships.
  3. Seasonal/resort work
    If you’re looking to gain new experiences and have fun at work then consider looking into seasonal or resort positions. Theme parks, ski resorts, cruise lines, and vacation destinations are always in need of seasonal workers. This type of work gives you the chance to meet new people, have new experiences, and get out of your hometown all while earning money.
  4. Working abroad
    Working abroad allows you to experience two different opportunities at once: traveling and earning money. There are a number of organizations that specialize in helping Americans find work abroad, including a number who are aimed specifically at young adults and college students. While you may not earn the most money with this option, you definitely make up for it inexperience.

Traveling

The other popular choice for gap year students is to travel. Many believe that traveling is an absolute must during a gap year, and it’s easy to see why. Traveling while you’re young can be an eye-opening experience. You get to visit new places, experience different cultures, make new friends, have new experiences and learn about yourself. Traveling will never be easier than it is when you’re a young adult. Limited obligations and responsibilities mean the flexibility to travel when and for how long you want.

Here are a few tips to maximize your travel experience:

  1. Travel during the off-season or shoulder season. Not only will it be cheaper, but you’ll find that popular destinations are much less crowded during these times. This means less time waiting in line and more time exploring your destination.
  2. Do as the locals do for the most authentic experience. Take public transit, indulge in street food and local cuisine, and don’t be afraid to find places hidden away from the sites. Not only will this ensure you have a more authentic experience, but it will also help you save money. Tourist-traps are known for overcharging and under-delivering.
  3. Seek out unique experiences. This seems like a given, but occasionally we all get stuck in a rut of what’s familiar. There are some things that you don’t need to go abroad to experience, like eating a Big Mac. When you’re traveling, try to go for experiences that you can’t have at home. Visit historical sites and famous landmarks, eat food you can’t get at home, and do something you never thought you’d have the chance to do.

Travel opportunities for young adults are endless. If you’re hesitant about going on your own, or you aren’t the best at planning you can still travel! A quick search will reveal a number of different travel companies that cater to young adults and students on a gap year. If money is your concern, there are plenty of opportunities for young adults to work abroad as well. There may even be opportunities to earn college credits through internships in foreign countries. You just have to do a bit of research and you can find an opportunity that works for you.

Volunteering

Volunteering is yet another way for students to have new experiences and get a chance to explore foreign countries. Volunteering also allows students to give back, explore their interests, and have the chance to see things from an entirely new perspective. It can be an incredibly rewarding and eye-opening experience. When considering doing volunteer work, there are a few different things to consider.

First of all, there are a number of different ways you can volunteer including building homes, schools, or wells in communities in need; assisting with animal protection and conservation; preparing and delivering meals for the less fortunate; medical or educational support work; and collecting donations just to name a few. For students in the middle of their education, there may be opportunities specifically related to your field. Nursing students, education students, and archaeology students are just a few examples of those who will find specialized volunteer programs. If you’re specifically looking for volunteer work related to your field of study, your academic advisor may be able to help you find a suitable program.

Along with the variety in types of volunteer work comes variety in the locations you can volunteer. From local programs to opportunities to travel across the globe, there’s something for everyone.  Not every volunteer position will be available in every single country. Volunteers go where they are needed as opposed to where they think would make a fun vacation destination. However, chances are you’ll find something that genuinely interests you in a place that you are interested in traveling to.

A quick search online will reveal a number of different organizations that you can volunteer with. The Peace Corps may be one of the most well-known, but rest assured there are many other options out there. You’ll find opportunities that range from a few weeks all the way up to an entire academic semester or even a full calendar year. The only limit is how much time you want to commit!

Other considerations

There is no shortage of benefits to taking some time off school. However, there are a few other important things to consider before signing up for a gap year.

Budgeting

Depending on what your plans are for your time off, a gap year can be expensive. After all, international plane tickets and hotel rooms aren’t known for their cheap prices.  Even if you aren’t going abroad and are just planning to move out of your parents’ house, there is definitely a cost. Being prepared and planning ahead is the best way to avoid running out of money and watching your savings turn into debt. Budgeting is an excellent skill to learn early on, as it’s something you’ll use throughout your life. 

If you plan on traveling in the future, start saving up for it now! Even a little bit of extra money can make a huge difference down the road. The other option is to consider doing a working holiday so that you’re earning some money while having the opportunity to travel.

Time

It’s important to remember that deferring school for a year, or taking a year off in the middle of your education means that you’ll be graduating a year later than anticipated. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it’s worth noting in case you have any time-sensitive goals. The experiences you gain will be well-worth delaying your graduation for a year. Even employers and graduate studies programs see the benefit of gap years and many are thrilled to see mention of them on a resume.

We hope this has helped shed some light on taking time off from college and given you another option to consider for your future. For more great tips on preparing for college be sure to check out our blog.