For many high school and college students, the idea of jumping into the next phase of life immediately after graduation is daunting. Some of these students choose to take a gap year – time off to pursue a passion, build a skill, travel the world or simply relax before they must make the potentially stressful transition to their next degree program or full-time employment.
This time off can be beneficial, yet only 19 percent of American millennials have even thought about taking a gap year, according to a study by Topdeck and YouGov. Some young people don't believe they can afford to take a gap year (41 percent), while others are afraid taking one would set them back in their careers (19 percent).
The secret is to take a productive gap year that will help propel you into the workforce.
"Employers hire passionate people, interesting people [whom] they will enjoy working with," said Libryia Jones, founder of Wanderist Life. "[People who travel] end up having a much more interesting profile than a person who just has the skill set to do the job."
Here are five ways to make sure your gap year is productive and successful. [Transitioning from college to the working world can be difficult. Here's how to make it easier on yourself.]
Do your research and start planning early
The first step to having a productive gap year is to do research and determine what you want to accomplish during your time off. Do you want to travel? Do volunteer work? Get inspired by visiting 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 one is through a gap year travel specialist. 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 Jones. "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."
Volunteer or gain work experience
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 afford 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 from home. 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.
Learn a new language or skill
Jones recommends taking time to learn a new skill in your time off. You can learn the skill in a classroom or by taking online courses.
"One thing I suggest is to consider the next job you want after the year is up. 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 jobs solely because you can speak another language. Plus, if you speak the local language, you'll be able to make more connections and better friends.
Know how to market your gap year to potential employers
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, general manager of Topdeck Travel, 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 make a friend and possibly a professional connection.
"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," said Ponte. "Make sure to take the time to really talk to the people you meet."