The traditional high school graduate who’s headed to college gets a nice summer break before the intensity of higher education begins. But some high school graduates take longer before starting university classes. These new adults take what’s called a gap year.
During a gap year, soon-to-be college students pursue their passions, strengthen their skills or work toward a cause. And yes, some students take a gap year simply to relax or travel, but these gap years aren’t the most productive use of their time. Here are seven ways to make sure your gap year is successful and filled with rich experiences.
The first step to a productive gap year is to research and determine what you want to accomplish during your time off. Do you want to travel? Would you like to volunteer? Get inspired by visiting a website dedicated to gap years, make a Pinterest board with all the gap year possibilities, or create a list of everything you want to accomplish.
Another great way to plan is through a gap year travel consultant. These specialists can help with planning specifics such as insurance requirements, visa assistance and medical advice.
“Take advantage of programs that offer a gap year planned and packaged,” said Libryia Jones, founder of Wanderist Life. “You get someone to manage the logistics [and] support you throughout the year, and they recruit a bunch of folks for you to travel with.”
You don’t have to do all the work of building out a gap year on your own. There are gap-year consultants who can handle much of the logistics.
While gap years are sometimes seen as a vacation, that doesn’t mean you can’t be honing skills necessary for your potential industry or making money to pay for your year abroad.
Some travelers teach English, pick up freelance gigs, work at resorts, become camp counselors or even pick fruit to afford a year away. Seek out jobs that will be relevant to the career you want when you land back home.
For example, if you plan to be a teacher, find a job as a camp counselor, nanny or tutor. If you want to be a writer, create a blog with articles, videos and pictures.
If you’re living elsewhere during your gap year, you can still immerse yourself in the job market around your home or college town. You can apply for remote internships with companies based near either of these locations, even if you’re all the way across the world. This way, you’ll stay connected to realistic post-college job markets while still enjoying your gap year. You’ll probably learn skills and concepts that’ll help you out in freshman year too.
You can remain connected to your home area and step into your university job market even from afar. Remote internships during your gap year are one of the best ways to do this.
Jones recommends learning a new skill during your time off. Consider what job you might want in the future before choosing what to pursue.
“Look up maybe 25 senior-level positions in that field – what are the skills required for the next job up from entry level? Invest time in learning that skill,” Jones told Business News Daily. “There are so many online courses you can take advantage of.”
If you do decide to travel, you can learn a new language and then go out into the real world to put your skills to the test. Once you return home, you’ll be more qualified for some translation jobs solely because you can speak another language. Plus, if you speak the local language, you’ll be able to make more connections abroad.
If you’ve had a passion project on your mind, your senior year of high school might not have been the best time for it. You had colleges to apply to, AP or IB exams to take, and friends to spend time with. During your gap year, though, you won’t have to make time for classes, and with so many of your peers in college your social life will be limited. You’ll have plenty of free hours to pursue your passion project.
Ideally, you’ll turn your passion project into a source of income relevant to your future university studies. This way, your passion project is both your calling and a way to stand out as you apply for jobs. The way you frame your gap year as you transition from school to the real world is key to a great first job.
When you return home and start applying to jobs, you’ll have to explain the time gap on your resume. But if you took a productive gap year by learning new skills, gaining relevant work experience and making connections, impressing a potential employer shouldn’t be hard.
A gap year “actually ends up being a great topic of conversation in interviews,” Jones said. “Focus on the parts of your experience that directly relate to you being a great candidate, [such as] dealing with difficult situations, managing through ambiguity [or] creative problem-solving.”
If you traveled, Joe Ponte, CEO of Hotelplan UK Ltd., suggests focusing on the communication skills you gained while you were abroad.
“Understanding how to communicate successfully with people of another culture is increasingly important in many career paths, and can give someone an advantage over another candidate,” Ponte said.
No matter how you choose to spend your time, you’ll meet new people at every turn during a gap year. Getting to know these people and making a connection could help you find a friend and possibly increase your professional network.
“You never know who you will meet during your gap year who might be able to help you get a job or build a relationship,” Ponte said. “Make sure to take the time to really talk to the people you meet.”
As you’re thinking about whether to take a gap year, consider the following potential benefits.
Taking a gap year could also put you at some disadvantages.
Saige Driver contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.