Is a gap year after high school a good idea?
Let me start by pointing out that taking a year off after high school is definitely not for everyone! For most students who plan to go to college, the traditional path of going straight from high school to college will be a good fit. However, taking a year off to do a gap year doesn’t have to deter you from your ultimate goal of attending university. In fact, most people argue that gap year alumni are incredibly successful college students—it just might make your college career even better.
But, for those seriously consider a gap year after high school? GREAT idea! Weighing all of your options can help you be more certain about whichever path you choose.
When you take a year off after high school, you have a chance to explore something totally new. Move to Thailand and learn about veterinary medicine. Travel through Europe and take language courses. Intern at a global corporation in Argentina and learn to surf. Volunteer at a school in Fiji and explore the islands on the weekends. Head to Morocco to discover your family heritage. Whether you want to find yourself at an ashram in India or get work experience in your home city, there are some situations in which it can be great to consider whether a gap year after high school is right for you.
Here are the reasons why gap year after high school programs are worth a second glance, as well as popular ways to travel and a couple of folks who can help you do it.
8 great reasons to take a gap year after high school
1. You don’t know if you want to go to college.
Sometimes everyone around you takes for granted that after high school comes college—and maybe you don’t know if that’s right for you! A college education can cost over $50,000 a year in the US, which makes it an expensive decision. There are some great careers that don’t require a college degree, and there isn’t a single career that requires you start your college education three months after you finish high school. So, why not take a year off after high school and gain some perspective instead?
2. You have a dream career in mind that requires a portfolio—and you don’t have one.
Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to be when they grow up from the time they are five years old. For most people, it takes time! If you found your dream career recently, but don’t have experience yet to get into a competitive program, then a gap year before college can be a great option.
3. You aren’t excited about college yet.
It’s normal to be nervous about college and wonder if you’ve picked the right school or made the right choice. But what if you aren’t excited at all? You’re burnt out, bored, and just plain wish you didn’t have to go? College is an opportunity, and it’s an expensive one at that. Taking an extra year to decide if it’s right for you can be great, as long as you put your time and energy into something of value during that year.
4. Your family, health, or other factors make waiting a year a good fit.
Sometimes you’re ready for college, but you need a year off for other reasons. Guess what? Colleges understand that. There is no harm or shame in taking a year off because going straight to college creates an undue hardship for yourself or your family. You can make the most of the year by gaining experience and skills at the level that’s possible for you.
5. You have an amazing non-college opportunity that won’t come again.
You’re offered the perfect internship. You have the chance to go on a year-long research trip. You were cast in a Broadway show. Whatever it is, there are some opportunities that you just know won’t come again, and they can be a great reason to follow a less traditional educational path.
6. You want to pursue some career training first.
What if you think you want to go to law school, but you actually don’t know what being a lawyer is all about? Or you think you want to be a doctor, but you’ve never been in a hospital? Before you start down a long, hard, expensive (but also satisfying and challenging) educational road, you may want to gain some training and experience over this year and decide if the field is a good fit for your interests and skills.
7. You didn’t put adequate effort into the college admissions process.
Let’s face it: the college admissions process is tricky. Sometimes something goes wrong: your scores don’t get sent, you forget to meet a testing requirement, you turn in your applications at the last minute, or you don’t apply to enough schools. Whatever happens, sometimes you just don’t get in where you want to go. That can be an opportunity to have a great year of improving your test scores, taking courses, gathering experience, and submitting the best applications possible.
By the way, a gap year won’t hurt your admissions prospects. A gap year where you lie around your parents’ house working a little bit part time, sleeping until noon, and hanging out with your friends probably will. So whatever’s next, make the most of this year!
8. You just know it’s right for you.
Some people just know that a year off after high school is right for them, whether it’s a gap year before college or before a career. If you’re taking a gap year because you’re scared of what’s next, talking to others can help calm your nerves. But if you’re taking a gap year because you can’t wait to pack the year with experiences and adventures, it could be great fuel for your trajectory.
Popular ways to spend your gap year after high school
Everyone’s year off after high school looks different, and what you choose will depend on what your goals are. There are a number of programs to help you make the most of a gap year before college if you are looking for an option that provides some structure. Some popular ways to spend your gap year are:
When most people think of a gap year, they think of traveling. A year off after high school is a chance to gain experience and perspective, and travel is something that can do that for you. Whether you live abroad for a portion of the year, take a long camping trip in your state, or join a gap year travel program, think about giving a new location a try.
- RECOMMENDED PROGRAM: Fill your passport with stamps thanks to Thinking Beyond Borders’ Global Gap Year
Volunteering can help you get exposure to experiences that might otherwise not be available. Many organized volunteer programs have a cost for arranging and managing the logistics, but you can also find free volunteer opportunities in your career field by reaching out to organizations in your area and showing that you are committed to helping in the long term. Volunteer programs can give you once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and the chance to develop independence.
- RECOMMENDED PROGRAM: Life ain’t ruff with Fronteering’s volunteer program at a dog ranch
An internship can be an excellent chance to learn about a career field of interest and gain experience. If you’re someone who doesn’t have much experience but is ready to work hard, be self-motivated, and impress your bosses, this can be a great fit! It can also be a great choice for someone who is very interested in a certain career but has never had any exposure to the field. You can look for internship opportunities through your own connections and in your hometown or look for a program to help you find an internship abroad.
- RECOMMENDED PROGRAM: Want variety? You’ll love IES Internships
Working for a year can help provide the funds to support yourself while giving you new experience, helping you try a career, and allowing you to have a break from school. One option that appeals to many students is teaching English, as it allows for unique travel opportunities, credentials that can be transferred to any career path, and actual work experience ( ← this can be very handy when it comes to applying for future internships or entry-level jobs!).
- RECOMMENDED PROGRAM: Consider teaching programs in China offered by Good Teachers Union
5. Studying and Training
Wait, I thought we were talking about taking a year off from school?! Okay, okay—hear us out. There are lots of ways to study that can help further your goals and education without necessarily following a traditional college path, or only learning in a boring ol’ classroom. Semester abroad programs independent of college and focused on career or cultural exploration can be a great option. Similarly, certification courses such as a TEFL course that prepare you to teach English abroad might be a good fit for you.
- RECOMMENDED PROGRAMS: Improve your mastery of veterinary science with Loop Abroad or get TEFL certified with Entrust TEFL
Of course, the beauty of a year off is that it can be personalized and customized to what you want and need, so the options are almost endless!
Tips for making your year off after high school successful
If you decide that a gap year after high school is right for you, here are some tips to help guide your decisions.
Set Goals. Think about where you want to be at the end of your gap year, and then set the monthly goals you need to get there. Unlike high school or college, your gap year will only have structure if you give it structure. One great way to make sure you have a successful and productive year is to find a gap year program that matches your goals.
Research. Learning about program options for a gap year before college can help you find the perfect fit for you, or just give you great ideas about how to structure your own year off. You can start learning about some program options here.
Talk. The transition from high school can be scary, but lucky for you, almost every adult you know has been through it. Talk to college students about why they chose their school or major. Talk to your parents and teachers about questions you have. Talk to other people who have done the kind of gap year you have in mind about their experience. You might find that talking about it helps you uncover any uncertainties you have that were making you nervous.
Don’t Compare Yourself. Up until now, all your success has been measured by your grade level or your age. Once you hit the so-called “real world”, it doesn’t work that way. A year off after high school does not put you a year “behind” anyone; it’s just a different path. Don’t spend your energy worried about getting behind, spend it getting further ahead on your own path.
Choose. Choose a plan for your year off after high school. If you’re thinking of using a program, complete your application and enrollment. You can compare and contrast programs here or get personalized assistance choosing a program here.
Set Deadlines and Track your Progress. High school sets the guidelines for you and keeps track of everything you’ve completed and learned. Now it’s up to you to do that on your own. Set goals for the next year and find a way to hold yourself accountable, such as sharing your goals with a motivated friend or joining a group of students with the same goals and interests. Start keeping track of your accomplishments and achievements so that you’re equipped to upgrade your resume, apply to more programs or colleges, and position yourself for your next goals.
Maybe (probably!?!) a gap year after high school is right for you
If you think you might want to take a year off after high school, start learning and researching. A gap year can be an excellent investment of your time, energy and resources, but deciding if it’s the best choice for you takes dedication. To have a successful year off after high school, you need a plan and a schedule, so get to it!