One way to launch your undergraduate years with purpose and determination is this: take a gap year! Recent studies show that deferring entrance into college for one year in order to learn outside the classroom and engage with the world can have a number of very positive effects on a person. Global travel often broadens perspective, leadership programs enhance life skills, new language skills promote international awareness, and exploration can lend clarity to fuzzy aspirations or ambitions.
If you think this is a good option for you, you can start by creating a purposeful plan for your one-year experience. The planning may coincide with your college application process, so be sure to manage your time wisely. If you are applying to college with the intention of taking a gap year, you should, first, check in with the admissions office of the college you hope to attend and be sure you would be allowed to delay or defer your enrollment. This will require a written request to the college. Remember to send your plan along with your request, because colleges are very interested in the innovative ways students intend to spend their time and energy.
Now, about your plan… What do you love to do? How will you spend your time? The simple answer may be to explore, volunteer, work on an organic farm, travel, be an intern, get a job, acquire skill in a foreign language, or join a community service project. There are many organizations that host cultural, educational, or service programs, which are all good ways to team up with others your age. Also, these types of organizations typically supervise the logistics of traveling so that the project management involved in going abroad becomes much easier. A gap year can also be of an independent design: you can shape your own plan based on your personal interests and goals. Either way, taking a year off from coursework and embracing a long held challenge can yield long-term rewards and prove to be a profound learning experience born from self-motivation. Whether found in a large group setting or a solo project, the gift of a year’s time will truly influence your next step.
The idea behind a gap year is to challenge yourself to better understand your values and goals, and to embrace the world in which you live. You’ll get that and more. You’ll get to know yourself in a totally different world –one chock full of fresh new ideas and inhabited by lots of people you do not know and who have had different life experiences from your own. Get out there, live it, own it, and grow. Sounds a lot like college. Right? That’s why a number of colleges support the gap year plan as an important learning experience. Harvard, Princeton and Middlebury are only three of the many schools that recognize the maturity and drive that often characterizes the gap year student. These schools understand that time spent outside the classroom may result later on in greater focus and clarity in the classroom.
A word of advice: planning is key. Make sure you stay on your college track even as you plan your time for a year away. Double check school policy, and have a solid plan to present to the school. If you do choose to take a gap year, remember to follow instructions and reconfirm your intention to enroll by the college’s due date. Then go and have the time of your life!