Should you head to college directly after graduating from high school? Many young Americans don’t even ask themselves this question; they are expected to enroll in classes right away, study hard for the next few years, and then proudly march across the stage and receive their diploma
It’s worthwhile to give college some serious consideration, however. Despite the emphasis that society puts on the importance of a four-year degree, higher education isn’t a good idea for everyone. And even those who do plan on earning a diploma could benefit from taking a gap year before they commit themselves to campus life.
What’s a gap year, and why is it such a good idea? Keep reading to learn all about it!
What Exactly Is A Gap Year?
Essentially, the term refers to any extended period of time – usually more than just the three months of summer that follows graduation, but not necessarily a year – during which you travel, work, and generally experience life.
It’s a time to have fun, certainly, but it usually involves an element of self-discovery as well. In the 1960s, people talked about “finding themselves,” and as corny as it may sound, that’s often the purpose of taking a gap year.
Freedom to Live on Your Own
For most folks, an essential element of the gap year is moving out of their parents’ home and living independently. This means budgeting and managing your own expenses, perhaps learning to live with a roommate, and holding down a job.
Although many teenagers and young adult relish this opportunity, it can also be a difficult adjustment. For some, this freedom can feel overwhelming if it’s added on top of an already busy, stressful freshman year at college. A gap year gives you the chance to grow, learn to juggle responsibilities, and make mistakes – without fear of failing academically.
Time to Travel
No one ever intends to live their life stuck in a rut, but it can happen even to people who have the best intentions. You say you’re going to travel and see the world, but then you meet the love of your life, get married, have a baby, buy a house…and the next thing you know, you’re stuck in the ‘burbs with a minivan and a mortgage.
Even if you don’t marry and settle down, it’s likely that after graduation from a four-year college, you’ll feel pressured to find a full-time job, ideally in your field, as soon as possible. Those student loans don’t care if you’ve always wanted to backpack across Europe or work with families in underdeveloped nations.
Taking a gap year to travel makes a ton of sense, then. And it’s easier than ever before to make money as you roam the globe, thanks to the internet and remote working opportunities.
Getting to Know You(rself)
Plenty of people use college as a chance to reinvent themselves – to ditch that nickname you hate, to be known for something other than being the star quarterback or the cheerleader or the bookworm or the ice-cream scooper or so-and-so’s daughter. But a gap year gives you a fresh start and more. It lets you figure out who you really are, what is truly important to you, and what direction you want to set out as you seek meaning and purpose in life.
A gap year might help you realize that you’re actually not all that excited about studying engineering or becoming a doctor just like your dad. Such a realization can save you tremendous amounts of time and money, not to mention the frustration of changing majors or even schools mid-stream.
On the other hand, traveling and experiencing the wider world might strengthen your conviction that a teaching degree is the only path for you or that you really are as passionate about fighting climate change as you’ve always claimed to be.
So How Do You Go About a Gap Year?
If you’ve already been accepted into a university, ask to delay your admission for a year. The next thing you will need is some money to start out with, or at the very least a steady gig of some kind.
Next, if you plan on traveling, pare down your belonging to the bare essentials. If your parents don’t mind, pack away furniture, memorabilia, books, etc. into their attic or basement. Or opt for the peace of mind that self-storage provides.
“Renting a self-storage unit is incredibly flexible,” says Boston storage facility owner Terry Drayton. “Keep your stuff safe while you’re on the road without worrying if anyone else is rummaging through it or leaving it behind.”
You Will Never Regret Your Gap Year
Ask your older friends or social media followers if they have any experience with taking time off between high school and college. It’s very likely that you will hear enthusiastic recommendations for the gap year – as well as some super interesting stories! Your friends will also give you some great advice on what to do during your gap year. (Or, perhaps even more importantly, what not to do!)
Are you considering a gap year? Do you plan on traveling, or just bumming around your hometown hanging out with friends and trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? Share your hopes and fears in the comment section below!