You know you want to go to college, but you’re not really sure who “you” are yet.
One way to launch your undergraduate years with purpose and determination is taking a gap year before college! The idea behind a gap year is all about personal growth—challenging yourself to better understand your values, your goals, and how you can best contribute to the world in which you live. You’ll get that and more. You’ll get to know yourself in a totally different environment—one chock full of fresh ideas and people with diverse life experiences.
Sounds a lot like college, right?
While taking a gap year before college is already a common rite of passage in Europe, many colleges in the United States strongly support the gap year plan as an important learning experience. Harvard, Princeton, and Middlebury (to name a few) are three examples of schools that recognize the maturity and drive that often characterizes the gap year student. Schools understand that time spent outside the classroom may result in a renewed vigor and focus when students return to the classroom the following fall.
In fact, recent studies show that taking a gap year before college and allowing time to learn outside the classroom and engage with “the real world” can have a multitude of positive effects on the student. Global travel often broadens perspective, leadership programs enhance life skills, new language skills promote international awareness, and exploration can give clarity to fuzzy aspirations or ambitions.
If you think taking a gap year before college is a good option for you, you should start by creating a purposeful plan for your one-year experience. A year goes by faster than you think—you’ll want to make the most of it!
Here are 4 tips to prepare:
- Start planning while applying for colleges . Taking a gap year before college may coincide with your college application process. If you are applying to college with the intention of taking a gap year, check with the admissions office and be sure you can delay or defer your start year.
- Develop a plan for your gap year . How will you spend your time? The answer could be anything: exploring the Himalayas, interning at a law firm, working in a foreign country, traveling to new lands, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a community service project.
- Connect with others your age . There are many organizations, such as Where There Be Dragons or Visions Service Adventures that host cultural, educational, or service programs, which are clever ways to team up with others your age. Also, these organizations typically handle the logistics of traveling, so venturing abroad becomes much easier.
- Ask to defer your enrollment . Once accepted into your dream college, ask to defer your enrollment for a year. This will require a written request. While asking, remember to send your plan along with your request (colleges are very interested in the innovative ways students intend to spend their time and energy).
Taking a gap year before college can be one of independent design.
Shape your own plan based on your personal interests and goals! Taking a year off from schoolwork and embracing a bit of independent learning (via classes of your choice or real-life experiences and travel) can yield long-term rewards. A gap year can serve as a profound learning experience born from self-motivation. Whether found in a solo project or a large group setting, the gift of a year’s time will truly influence your next step.
Again, a word of advice when taking a gap year before college—planning is key.
Make sure to stay on your college track as you plan the year. Double check the college deferral policy of your prospective school, and have a solid plan to present to them. If you do choose to take a gap year with a group, remember to follow instructions and reconfirm your intention to enroll by the due date! Then, go and have the time of your life! Get out there, live it, own it, and grow.
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