A gap year occurs when a student takes an academic year off between high school graduation and his or her first year of college. Common reasons for taking time off before college include volunteer opportunities, work commitments and traveling, among many other endeavors and desires. Some students even take a year off simply to have a break from school and subsequently come to college refreshed.
Regardless of the reason for a gap year, students who do take this route must be prepared to appropriately justify this time off on college applications.
Here are a few tips in best presenting a gap year throughout your admissions process:
Thoroughly explain your choice
It is not necessarily bad to take a little bit of time away from school, but you need to be able to effectively argue for your choice. Prepare a statement explaining your year off — be specific about what you did, your reasoning behind it and why it was important to you.
If your religious traditions encourage a church mission, let your admissions officers know that your choice was a reflection of firmly held values. If you were offered a once-in-a-lifetime job or internship opportunity straight out of high school, explain how it helped confirm your college path and major selection. Whether you traveled, volunteered or worked over your gap year, reflect on why you chose to prioritize these activities over immediately attending college.
Discuss the benefits
Not every student benefits from a year off. However, carefully planned and productive gap years can be enriching and valuable experiences. Make a list of the benefits you gained as a result of your gap year. The gap may have provided a much needed break from a stressful high school experience, offered life experience that you would not have otherwise been able to attain or allowed you to gain much needed perspective on your life goals.
If asked, it is okay to admit you just needed a break — after all, you are human, not an academic machine. Recognizing and responding to your personal needs demonstrates responsibility and maturity — both of which are attractive qualities to admission officers.
Share your accomplishments
Your academics are not the only thing about you that would attract colleges and universities. Admissions committees want students who are well-rounded and who offer a unique perspective to their campus. As a volunteer, how many hours of community service did you complete? Who or what did you impact through your service? Were you given any awards or recognitions from your employer?
While backpacking across continents, did you reach any personal goals or learn a new language? Do not be afraid to place value on your achievements — no matter how big or small — even if they are not solely academic in nature.
While taking a gap year is not always the best choice for every student, this time off is becoming more and more popular and can certainly be valuable to students who use it appropriately. To ensure admission to your top colleges is not negatively impacted by your year away, use these tips to argue for the importance of your gap year, as well as why you are a better candidate for admission because of it.
Brenna Tonelli is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a technology platform for private academic tutoring and test prep designed to help students at all levels of education achieve academic excellence.
This article comes from The USA TODAY College Contributor network. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of USA TODAY. You understand that we have no obligation to monitor any discussion forums, blogs, photo- or video-sharing pages, or other areas of the Site through which users can supply information or material. However, we reserve the right at all times, in our sole discretion, to screen content submitted by users and to edit, move, delete, and/or refuse to accept any content that in our judgment violates these Terms of Service or is otherwise unacceptable or inappropriate, whether for legal or other reasons.
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A gap year! A few years ago this phrase was casually thrown around, but now the word's ‘gap year’ seem to be on every young person’s lips. It seems that every time a gap year is mentioned it's met with ideas of beautiful beaches, beautiful people and a wonderful time. But what are they like in reality? Are gap year programs really all sunshine and daisies or is there a little more to them?
One surefire way to convince your mom and dad to let you take a gap year is to do your homework. This list details the pros and cons of taking a gap year to help you decide if it’s really right for you.
PRO: It'll make your resume look pretty snazzy
A gap year can provide a person with valuable new skills that any employer will be impressed by. Cultural awareness, organization, and an ability to work independently are just some of the skills that are gained by taking a year out.
CON: You'll be a year behind
This can be a tough one for many people. They wave as their friends all trek to college and start their new lives and they are left behind. They can’t start their new adventure yet because they don’t have the cash. This is easily offset by working hard and saving cash quickly in order to jet off as soon as possible.
PRO: You'll meet new people
On a gap year it’s impossible not to meet new people. Throughout school and college we are surrounded by the same folks but taking a gap year allows us to discover others, make new friends, and interact with people from all walks of life.
CON: You'll be homesick
It’s something that hits most of us at some point. Whether you're missing family, friends or simply home comforts, you may find yourself wondering why you chose a life on the road. But fear not! The joy of travel is that there is always somebody to meet and something to do. Power through and you'll be glad you did.
PRO: You'll have tons of stories
After spending a year away the stories will mount up; these can be great conversation starters in the interview room, at parties or, simply just to look back on and remember.
CON: It's a risk
Sure it is! But where do we get in life if we aren’t willing to take risks? This is what makes a gap year so exciting; not knowing what to expect is all part of the adventure. The key is to take care and travel with common sense. Fun fact: I've yet to meet a gap year traveler or career breaker who "regretted" their decision to hit the road.
PRO: It’s a long escape from the daily grind
A gap year, for most people, is the period of non-traditional life that you'll ever have. It is often a once in a lifetime experience and the chance to escape the daily grind. However, if planned right, it will also be an educational opportunity of growth and other benefits and not just a "vacation" or year off. A gap year should be a year on.
CON: It can be expensive
This depends on the destination and the duration of the trip but, chances are, when taking a gap year you’re going to spend quite a bit of cash. The best way to fund a gap year is to work and travel at the same time. It’s also a good idea to plan trips independently as this will cut costs dramatically – for the first time traveler this may be a little difficult and paying extra for the help of someone to do it for you might be a good idea.
PRO: It’s a great way to learn
A gap year will provide you with much more than any classroom setting ever can. We can learn a lot in the classroom, but it isn’t until we put it into practice in the real world that we really understand what’s going on. A gap year lets us learn as we do and there’s much more room for new experiences to enter our lives.
We will also learn a lot more about ourselves and who we are as people; sometimes an experience during a gap year can knock you a bit but you’ll learn just how much you can deal with when you really have to. Whether volunteering, studying, or just traveling, you're bound to learn a ton.
CON: It can be stressful
Booking vaccinations, getting tickets and insurance, visas and accommodation sorted; all this and the adventure hasn’t even begun. It does get easier as you get used to life on the road but there will always be situations that will test your stress levels to the max.
Planning independently can be tough, whether it’s language barriers, currency, or trying to work out the public transport systems, so sometimes it’s good to kick back, spend a little more and let someone else do the hard work. Doing formalized programs are a great way to get situated and meet like-minded folks. Just be sure read reviews first!
PRO: You'll look after yourself
Some people might put this in the cons list; who wants to look after themselves if they can rely on Mom and Dad to help them out? But the truth is we’ve all got to stand on our own two feet at some point and the sooner we can learn how to do this the better. Going on a gap year can also help us get used to life on a budget, which is great preparation for college.
CON: There's the potential to waste a lot of time
Many people think their trip will begin as soon as they finish school and kind of just wait for things to happen. This is not the case - as soon as the decision to have a gap year is made, the planning and saving needs to begin. If this is done then the gap year really can begin as soon as the school year is finished.
However, by not planning carefully many people find weeks and months passing by before they can even step onto that first plane.
PRO: It’s a break from traditional education
Many people who enter college straight from school regret their choice of course within the first two years. Taking a break from education and going away for a while gives us the chance to really consider what the right course is. Not only this, but a gap year can provide a renewed vigor for study and a more focused approach to learning.
CON: You're no longer a student
It’s a pretty big deal, going from school into the real world. It can be a big shock getting used to this new way of life. Many people prefer to take this transition a little more slowly by studying or doing an internship abroad.
PRO: You'll learn a new language
There’s no better way to learn a new language than to live in the country that speaks it. Being immersed in a foreign language means that all of the new words that are learned can get put into practice straight away. People who live in native speaking countries of their target language are able to pick up the basics much faster than people who stay at home. You'll be a foreign language pro in no time!
CON: Um.. wait... What's that?? There are MORE pros than cons?
Don't stop reading quite yet, you adventurous, you!
PRO: It doesn’t have to be a year
A gap year can be as short or as long as people want them to be. Some choose to take some time out, get a job and save some cash before heading off, this way they can have a great experience without worrying too much about their funds. Others want a longer time away and leave as soon as they have a feasible amount - this means they’re always watching what they spend but they’re able to travel longer and fit more in. Most people who travel this way will find work abroad to fund their trip.
PRO: You'll become more mature
People who take gap years often report that their family and friends say ‘you’ve changed’ when they return home, but it’s never in a bad way. A gap year introduces a person to so many new ideas and experiences it’s probably impossible not to change in some ways. Taking a gap year can put you in situations that many people (who never leave their own country) will never face.
Will You Take a Gap Year?
There’s no denying that spending time abroad will enhance your resume, give a young person valuable new skills and ensure the experience of a life time. The advantages of a gap year can't be touted enough. But, a gap year is not for everyone and there are other things you can consider -- especially for individuals who are new to traveling, the gap year disadvantages may present huge stumbling blocks.
Whatever you choose, remember that any time spent traveling abroad will be life-changing. Also, just do it. No, seriously. This is that "sign" you've been waiting for.
Looking for a Gap Year Program?Photo Credits: IES Abroad.