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Why You Should Consider a Gap Year Before College

For those of us reading this article, we are hoping to put someone on a path to college. Whether it is yourself, a student, or a friend/family member, we care about their future. The question is does it always make sense to pursue college right after high school?

For some students it might make sense. Maybe they received a full-ride baseball scholarship to their dream school. In that case, it may not make much sense to pursue a gap year.

But consider a student that is still undecided about their path, though. Perhaps they applied too late to schools and/or missed the FAFSA deadline. Or taking another approach, the case of a student who just received venture capital funding for their impressive software application.

Should they still go to school just because their peers are going? Perhaps not.

Organizational Benefits

A gap year can give students more time to organize themselves, collect their thoughts, and get inspired to create a plan.

There is no doubt urgency in applying for and attending college. Deadlines are critical. Missing one could cost you a scholarship or even acceptance to your top school. Stress and anxiety can be common with due dates, final projects, and other last minute to-dos for juniors and seniors.

To add to it, picking a college is a big choice — one of the biggest choices most students have made in their lives. Making a hasty decision to go to school without proper planning and financing can be a costly misstep. Thus having extra time to evaluate and reflect can help narrow focus and make the best decision.

Internship & Job Opportunities

Consider an internship or job that matches your future career or college interests. An internship is a great way to gain professional experience in a field or industry that catches your attention. Even better — some jobs and internships are paid. So not only can you gain valuable professional and academic experience, you can be compensated for your time. That is a win-win.

Unlike a typical job, not all internships offer payment. Such is the nature of entry-level internships. However, if the internship provides other value (besides money) then it may still be worth the effort. Let’s take political internships as an example. Most internships for politicians (both local and national) are unpaid. The hours and work can be long, grueling and sometimes thankless. But the experience gained can be insightful. It could lead to a job after graduation or a valuable networking opportunity.

Paid or unpaid, it’s important to make the most of your internship. Later on down the road you may need to list a reference for a previous employer for a job. Some scholarships may also require a letter of recommendation. Who better to ask than a manager or supervisor at your previous internship that knows you well?

Research Projects

A gap year can also be a terrific opportunity to take on a research project. Keep in mind, this may also be a part of a internship depending on the field or industry.

Ask your counselor for any connections to local professors or do your own outreach.

If you live near a college or university, look for professors that research or teach in areas that match your educational interests. You can usually find their emails on their faculty or department pages. Reach out first via email and introduce yourself. Be upfront about your why you are emailing them. Simply explain that you are looking for relevant research experience in their field of study before you attend college.

Make sure to include an updated resume and a brief cover letter that outlines your background, achievements, and why you think you’re a good candidate to help them. You can use the same email template to be efficient, but do customize a paragraph for each professor in your email outreach. No one likes a generic message.

Applying for Scholarships

If you obtain a job, internship, or research gig during your gap year you will have legitimate professional experience to reference in scholarship applications. Not only will this help prepare for future work experience, but you will be a more competitive candidate.

Again, back to the first point of the article, time will be on your side. Use the extra time wisely to search for scholarships and apply on a consistent basis. The only way to win is to start. And the only way to start is to take the first step.

Gap Year Trends

Gap years have clear advantages. Why aren’t they more common?

As it turns out, gap years are gaining more traction and acceptance. Some universities even encourage it.

More parents, students and educators are now seeing a gap year as part of a natural progression to college. Above all, a gap year is meant to build a unique learning experience that can’t replicated in a traditional classroom. It can be one year, one semester, one summer, whatever you decide is an appropriate amount of time.

A gap year is not meant to be a period of leisure or free time. Think of it like a full-time job with full-time responsibility. This is a chance to carve out your own meaningful adventure. In other words, a gap year isn’t something that is planned overnight or even in a week. It will take some serious planning and consideration to make it successful.

All in all, a gap year can be a powerful tool if used responsibly. It can help set you apart from other students and craft a completely unique learning endeavor.

Share your thoughts below on gaps years and let’s create a discussion.

damienschuster