Give Yourself a Great GAP Year

What do Princeton, Harvard, Tufts and MIT have in common? They all encourage you to take a gap year BEFORE entering college. While this isn’t mandatory, it’s a great idea to consider. The GAP year will give you a much-needed downtime from the stresses of high school plus an opportunity to grow as a person, see new sights, discover new cultures, and learn a language and much more. Whether you volunteer, take a job or travel around the world, the GAP year can help you discover what the real world is all about.

First Things First

According to the Center of Interim Programs, a Gap year consultancy, there are some steps you must take before taking on a Gap year.

1. Secure a place in college first. Then defer enrollment for a year. This is less hectic than spending the gap year doing applications.

2. Have a plan. Set goals and create structure to prevent depressing downtime at home.

3. Research programs. If an organization can’t recommend at least two alumni to discuss their experiences, don’t sign up.

4. Respect your social needs. The year represents a break with the crowd, so it’s important to plan strategies for making new friends and staying in touch with old ones.

5. Plan ahead for health insurance. Some policies won’t cover adult-age dependents if they cease to be full-time students. Check your policy several months in advance, then explore temporary insurance if necessary.

Next Steps:

From becoming a ski instructor to working in fashion, the Internet is filled with gap year ideas. Take Jabob Fienstein who according to USA Today, “has spent the past year doing an internship with a software start-up in New Zealand, taking cooking classes and studying filmmaking in New York City before he enrolls at Harvard University in September.”

Consider the story of Owen Henry who after getting rejected by every college he applied to, he “participated in a program for American gap-year students last fall at Oxford University, where he says he spent less than $10,000, and…decided on a career as an Arabic translator. Since March, he has been handling two tons of sail as a deckhand on the Lady Maryland, a 104-foot-long tall ship and floating classroom in Baltimore. He gets room, board and $6.54 an hour. He has saved $1,600 of this for college, and he plans to enroll this fall at Oberlin College, to which he applied and was accepted during the gap year.”

So while most experts would recommend applying to colleges during your senior year, getting accepted and then requesting a one-year deferral, the Gap year might get schools that rejected you in the past to accept you in the future.

What Are Your Options:

Travel: Many organizations offer programs with an emphasis on traveling or living

abroad. Or, you may wish to plan your own adventure.

Internships: Spend some time working in a career field that interests you. If you enjoy it, you’ll have even more incentive to succeed in your chosen college major. If it’s not the field for you, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore other career opportunities.

Volunteer work: You can find volunteer programs both in the U.S. and all over the world. You could build houses, work with children, work on environmental projects, or a host of other activities.

Academics: Students who are not pleased with their high school records might consider a postgraduate (PG) year. The goal for a PG year is to strengthen your academic record in the hope of gaining entry to a better college.

Work: Whether you find a job at home or away, a year of work can give you extra funds to pay for college, plus valuable, real-life experience.

Source: National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Sensible Volunteering

They say that before you can help someone else, you have to help yourself. If you’re planning on becoming a volunteer during your Gap year, do it in an area that’s related to your future career choice (if you already know). For example, someone who wants to major in Fashion Design or Fashion Merchandising might benefit at studying at the Florence Institute of Design International or teaching fashion technology to impoverished children in South Africa.

A nursing major or someone who plans on attending medical school might benefit from the medical and nursing work experience placements by Gap Medics. After an intensive preparation, participants gain on-the job training as well as making a real contribution to communities in Namibia, Nepal and Tanzania.

What makes sense is to think of how your gap year experience might benefit you in the future. With that said, some gap year participants do choose to spend their time becoming ski/snowboard instructors (takes about 11 weeks to earn a level 1 certification) or engage in other activities that might not look that great on a resume but might help them make extra money, find themselves, improve social skills, and have a great time.

Learning a Language

Did you know you can earn college credits BEFORE going to college? The gap year might be the perfect opportunity to learn a foreign language while living in a foreign land. For example, at the BLCU Chinese Immersion Program more than 10,000 students learn Mandarin every year. The advantages of knowing a second or third language are many, being bilingual or trilingual looks great on a resume, can help you get jobs at global corporations or even work in foreign countries after graduation.

Final Considerations

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 30% of freshmen in U.S. four-year colleges and universities drop out before the sophomore year. Part of that is because they get themselves burned out, they weren’t ready for college or didn’t have the maturity level that college demands. Because of this, the gap year can be seen not as an expense but as an investment in the future success of the college student.

Useful Links

Gap Year

11 Amazing Ways To Spend your Gap Year

Study Abroad Links

Study Programs International (learn a language)

Extreme Arctic 2011


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