Gap Year Students: Time Off, With a Plan
After high school, Matt Hendren needed a break. “I’d had a really full academic year,” he says. “I was a little burned out and not so eager to get to the next academic step. I knew that I wanted to go to school, but I wasn’t fired up about it just then.”
So Hendren deferred his admission to the University of North Carolina and spent 2 years working for City Year Boston, an AmeriCorps-funded program. The experience, he says, helped to reinvigorate him and get him excited about returning to school.
People like Hendren take time off from school or other endeavors for different reasons—and at different points in their lives. This transitional period is often called a “gap year.” A gap year allows people to step off the usual educational or career path and reassess their future. And according to people who’ve taken a gap year, the time away can be well worth it.
This article can help you decide whether to take a gap year and how to make the most of your time off. The next few pages describe what a gap year is, including its pros and cons. Another section has tips for planning a successful year off.
To gap—or not to gap?
“Gap year” often refers to postponing continued study after high school. It can also be a break during or after college or graduate school—or at almost any other time. The practice is common in the United Kingdom and other countries and increasingly familiar in the United States.
Although termed a gap year, the time period can be longer or shorter than 12 months. The concept of a gap year is flexible in other ways, too. “Gap year is a state of mind,” says college career counselor Marianne Green. “It’s a way of choosing anactivity and using that experience in a way that is helpful for the future.” Just about anything, from working on a dude ranch to working in a local store, can be turned into an interesting gap-year experience, says Green: “What’s important is the attitude that you have.”
Some gap years are unforeseen. A student graduating from college might, for example, have difficulty getting a full-time position in his or her field of study. Or family obligations might prevent someone from attending college. Other gap years are more deliberately chosen.
Regardless of the circumstances leading to it, says Green, a gap year should be an intentional undertaking. “It’s not a default,” she says. “The bottom line is that maybe you didn’t get into law school or maybe the job in an accounting firm fell through. But you can consciously choose to make your time off the very best experience you can.”
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