If you want to learn as much as you can about a possible future career path, consider taking a gap year. A gap year is a period of time off—it doesn’t have to be a full year—between high school and college, college and graduate school, or school and career. A gap year is like an extreme test drive because it gives you a chance to “get your hands dirty,” gain some experience, and see a career in action over an extended period of time.
A gap year could include things like traveling independently or with a group, interning with a company, or volunteering with a non-profit or government-sponsored service program. You could spend time working with endangered animals at a nature preserve in Africa, tutoring inner-city kids through AmeriCorps, or apprenticing with a local artist or small business—the possibilities are endless! Many gap year participants find an opportunity that is right for them through a gap year placement organization.
Gap years are becoming more popular in the United States, although they have been common for young adults in other countries like England and Australia for many years. More colleges and universities are looking favorably upon students who have taken gap years because these students consistently come to school more mature, energized, focused, and ready to learn since they’ve already discovered what they are truly passionate about. This excitement often results in students graduating from college in less time and launching into their careers earlier and with greater success than those who don’t take a gap year. Many colleges and universities allow students who have been accepted to defer for a year before beginning their studies.
Here’s how a few experts explain the benefits of a gap year:
Weeding out what is not of interest is as helpful as discovering what is. During my own gap year, I spent four months in Hawaii doing aquaculture research with visions of becoming a marine biologist. Within three weeks, I realized I had no patience for field research. This is not the kind of knowledge one can easily glean from a classroom setting.
On a personal level, these students (gap year participants) have a better idea of who they are and what they can handle away from the familiarity of friends, family, and culture. They may have determined what kind of work they want to do in the world, or at least have a sense of work environments that may or may not suit them. On a practical level, they are building a resume before they hit college.”
—Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs
Becoming a ski instructor in Canada, teaching English in Cambodia or helping run summer camps in Russia…would make you more confident, a better leader, more worldly, more mature and to that end, a better employee. Most employers now, particularly the more progressive ones, would see all of those things as a great benefit.”
—Campbell Sallabank, CEO of career and networking site Linkme.com.au.
How to Know if You Should Consider a Gap Year
- If you are pretty sure about a particular career path, but need some more real-world experience before you make a decision, consider taking a gap year.
- If you are not ready to go straight to college after high school—either because you can’t decide on a major, or because you need a little break from sitting in a classroom—a gap year can be a time to rejuvenate and get clearer about what you want to study before you continue your schooling.
- If you need to spread your wings, get beyond your comfort zone, and try a completely new experience—a gap year can provide this sort of adventure as well.
If the possibility of taking a gap year excites you, check out this great list of Gap Year Programs.