By Gillian Katz
For some students, the progression from high school directly into college life feels natural. For others, the transition is more uncertain and begs the question, “Isn’t there another way to spend my time after high school?” This transitional period does exist and it is usually called a gap year! The title “gap year” is simply derived from the idea that one spends a year away from learning and the normal routine to take a gap in their educational studies or, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary so eloquently states, a gap year is “a one-year hiatus from academic studies to allow for non-academic activities.” This doesn’t mean you don’t learn on a gap year. The learning is usually more experience-based and independent. Gap years can be filled with almost any activity you choose, including working, traveling, and community service. But with unlimited opportunities comes serious thinking. If you are having trouble deciding whether or not to take a gap year, consider your motives.
Why You Should Consider A Gap Year
You’re burnt out from high school
Staying up late to study doesn’t end after high school graduation. In fact, it occurs more frequently. If you feel that you have no more energy, stamina or drive to go straight into another year of school, then a gap year might be a smart choice. “Coming from a very intense all-girls high school, I was not ready for college at all,” one collegiette said of her gap year experience. “Academically, I was completely burned out from working so hard for four years, and I was also socially un-prepared, having essentially not been in a co-ed situation for four years. My gap year gave me the time to recharge, and when I came to Harvard the next year, I was excited to be back in the classroom.” She continues, “We've been in an academic setting our entire lives -- there's nothing wrong with taking time out to do something else. Taking a break from the academic grind allows for new and different but equally important experiences, and chances are, you'll be better prepared and more excited for whatever you return to after your year off.”
Because a gap year can be open-ended, you can choose to do something more or less educationally focused depending on your personal needs. Each person will find her own experience and grow in different ways from that experience. If your mind needs a rest, maybe volunteering or backpacking abroad is the right choice. It is important to rest and refill the thinking tank before college, so if a regular summer vacation isn’t going to do the trick, think about a gap year!
You've never left home
Maybe your college of choice is around the corner from your house, you’ve lived in the same town for your whole life or you’ve never left the country! A gap year is a great opportunity to get global experience. There are gap year programs EVERYWHERE so take a risk (another great part of a gap year) and try something exotic. Companies like CIEE and Rustic Pathways offer many community service-based, international programs especially for gap year students. Contiki offers travel tour groups at affordable prices to many international locations.
If you're looking for a less structured experience, consider planning a road trip and documenting your time with a blog.
You feel lost
It has been said that high school is the time to find yourself. Not always true! Sometimes it takes a more independent experience to test who you are. A gap year can be a great time to figure out who you are, what you like and why in a new environment – you might also discover some academic interests and potential college majors. This is a great experience to have before heading off to college, where you will be living without your family and high school friends. Be self-assured and confident and you can overcome any personal struggle and achieve your goals.
A gap year is a great time to push yourself to the max, so go for it! One collegiette with gap year experience said, “I learned how to live alone and how to organize my life without my parents’ help, and I got real-world experience that allowed me to have more perspective.” Gap years are also great for teaching you about real world activities like money management, doing laundry and taking out the trash – all things you may not have to do when living at home.
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You're In Very Good Company
Although some of our favorite cultural icons and stars achieved <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/teen-year-in-review-huffp_n_2302280.html">major succes while still in their teen years </a>(Taylor Swift, we're looking at you), some of the greatest game-changers of all time have been late bloomers. Van Gogh didn't even start painting until he was in his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/late-blooming-artists_n_1758135.html">late 20s</a>, Julia Child didn't learn to cook until she was 40, and Harrison Ford didn't get his big break in movies until he starred in "Star Wars" at 35. The list goes on.
Reaching Adulthood Is Just The Beginning Of Your Life
Hitting your peak in high school means that it's downhill from there. So don't worry if you're not the head cheerleader with a great boyfriend, perfect group of friends and 4.0 GPA -- it may seem all important right now, but in the long run, being uncool in high school probably won't have a negative impact on your life. There are <a href="http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/">countless stories </a>of awesome people doing amazing things with their lives who felt like the outsider during high school.
It's Important To Allow Time For Self-Discovery
It can take a lifetime to truly figure out who you are and what makes you happy. If you take the time when you're young to get to know yourself, both the good and the bad, and discover your interests. Diving too early into relationships and set-in-stone life plans can keep your from determining what <em>really</em> matters to you, so don't stress about allowing yourself the time and freedom to jsut BE.
There's No Need To Stress Over Doing Everything NOW
You might want to think twice before you pressure your to join every club, sign up for every AP class and do every possible internship before you even get to college. Chances are, you'll work yourself into an early burnout in your rush to accomplish everything before you graduate high school. Take your time, focus on things that truly interest you, and let go of the pressure to be perfect. Real, lasting accomplishments don't happen overnight.
You'll Avoid Making Big Decisions Before You're Ready
Rushing is probably the worst thing you can do when it comes to big long-term decisions like settling on a career, new city or life partner. Take your time to discover, explore, and get to know yourself first -- that way, you'll be more equipped to make important choices about your future when the time comes.
Going Through An Awkward Stage DOES Build Character
Although feeling uncomfortable in your skin is never fun -- whether it's the result of acne, or being stuck in the wrong group of friends -- going through an awkward stage forces you to look beyond the superficial and get to know and appreciate yourself for who you are on the inside. Some of the most successful (and good-looking) adults out there have opened up about having a glasses/braces/acne period or being a total outsider in high school. It DOES get better, and going through the rough times will ultimately make you stronger.
You'll Only Become More Confident As You Get Older
Even if it hasn't happened yet, one day, you'll feel truly comfortable in your own skin and find a circle of people who love you for who you are -- and then, in time, all those other things will come. As Lucille Ball once said, "Love yourself first and everything else falls into line." The nice thing about just focusing on being your most awesome self, is that the rest will work itself out naturally. Don't worry if it's not all happening right now -- you got this.