First, assess your main goal for your gap year. Do you want to accomplish things that will strengthen your application so you can reapply to colleges? Do you want to earn money so you can focus more on your studies (rather than work) once you start college? Do you want more life experiences?
How exactly you should most effectively spend your gap year depends very much on your goal. With that said, here are some options for great ways to spend your gap year. You can focus on one, or combine them in a blend that suits your needs, goals, and personality.
- Working, especially if you can find a job related to your interests or intended field of study. In addition to giving you a chance to save some money, this will give you real-world experience in your field and give you a new perspective to bring to your studies. If you’re planning to reapply to any university, you can use this experience to make your application more compelling.
- Volunteering is another great way to fill your time (and strengthen your application, if you’re going to apply again). A fairly popular strategy is to combine this with either the previous or next option by doing a volunteering or work trip abroad. Be warned, though, that volunteering trips are generally a topic best avoided in your admissions essays.
- Traveling is an incredible way to expand your horizons and gain new perspectives on life, the world, and — perhaps most importantly — yourself. There are various programs that can make traveling more affordable. If you’ve already accepted a school’s offer of admission and have deferred it for your gap year, check whether your school has any programs to help with this.
- Learning about subjects that matter to you is always a good idea. You can do this during other ideas mentioned already (such as working and volunteering), or by taking classes or finding a mentor in your field of choice. If you take classes at a community college, you can even get a head start on college by getting some credits out of the way! Moreover, taking online classes is not a bad idea at all, especially since you can learn at your own pace. Online classes generally offer a wider variety of subjects that may appeal to some of your passions.
- Pursuing passions with more freedom and flexibility than you’ve had before. If you aren’t naturally inclined toward too much relaxation (or laziness), keeping your time fairly unstructured can give you a chance to pursue your interests with the kind of freedom that’s very hard to come by.
Here’s a bonus tip: remember to give yourself a chance to relax, so you show up at college refreshed and ready to get started!
What to Avoid in Your Gap Year
Don’t get distracted from your goal! When your days aren’t structured around school or work, it can be incredibly easy to let them slip through your fingers. Next thing you know, your gap year is almost over and you’ve accomplished nothing except watching every episode of every show on Hulu.
Don’t overwork or exhaust yourself. Now that you have freedom from school for perhaps the first time you can remember, it can be incredibly tempting to try to pack in everything that you didn’t have time for before. But working full-time, pursuing several hobbies, hanging out with your friends, making time for your family, volunteering, taking community college or online classes, and exploring the world (and adulthood) is a whole lot to juggle. Remember to take some time just to relax and recharge so you aren’t already burned out before the semester even begins.