Considering a Gap Year? Here Are 3 Ways to Make it Worthwhile


Between excelling in the classroom, lettering in a varsity sport and performing well on the SATs, you’ve worked hard and done your part to land that coveted college acceptance letter. But now that high school graduation is seemingly right around the corner, reality may be setting in and leaving you unsure about your future.

Doubts about whether a community college or university is the right fit, which major to select and/or deciding whether to live with friends or a complete stranger in your dorm room are all common questions and concerns. But if you continue to struggle with answers to these important considerations, you may benefit from taking a gap year.

Like many other 17- and 18-year-olds before you, taking a gap year can be the perfect opportunity to learn more about yourself and figure out what your future should entail. It’s also the ideal time to experience something new and broaden your horizons before tackling the rigors of college. Are you considering a gap year? Make sure the experience is worthwhile by following these three tips:

1. Explore New Cultures

a guy looking out of a helicopter

The wonders of traveling cannot always be fully articulated and explained without firsthand experience. Indeed, heading overseas will allow you to experience new countries, culture, people, languages, history, traditions, and food that you couldn’t learn from a book. With that in mind, spend your gap year traveling the world to experience as many new things as possible.

For example, backpack across Europe or try to hit several continents to see firsthand how different cultures experience life. Before settling on a destination, however, you may also want to study your family tree and visit places where your ancestors lived before emigrating to America.

Meantime, you can also choose to live among the locals, teach English as a second language, live in a bustling city and get a part-time job, or simply travel the world as you see fit. Not only will these experiences open your eyes and mind to new discoveries, but you’re also bound to make yourself a more well-rounded person by learning a host of new things and always having something interesting to discuss. Of course, these experiences can prove valuable when applying to college.

2. Do Something Altruistic

a guy doing carpentry

Beyond entertaining yourself, you may decide to make your gap year a more philanthropic venture. Of course, there are countless volunteer opportunities in both industrialized Western nations as well as poor third-world countries. The choice is ultimately yours, but you may want to look into opportunities with NGOs that support causes near and dear to your heart.

For example, through these nonprofit organizations, you can help rebuild houses, volunteer in orphanages, teach English, work with animals or volunteeer with conservation and sustainability groups. These activities can provide a great opportunity to determine potential career paths, like teaching or veterinary medicine, that complement your altruistic spirit and would provide future career fulfillment.

3. Learn New Skills

books piled together

Not only does traveling teach you about the world, but it also provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about yourself. In fact, it’s a great way to find out what you enjoy most, the areas in which you excel and how you can solve issues.

For example, if you get lost on the metro, would you be able to find your way home? What would be your plan if you couldn’t find work? What if you got sick or injured and couldn’t find care in a timely manner? Of course, these are important questions to ask yourself and consider.

But beyond picking up new skills, it may also behoove you to learn a new language. Now, you may need to start slow by using your iPhone 6s to help you learn the basics, but the best way to master a language is to immerse yourself among the locals and continue to hone your skills at home. Learning a new language while traveling abroad is definitely useful, but it can also help you fulfill your university foreign language requirement and stand out amongst applicants when applying for future jobs.

Ultimately, taking a gap year isn’t just about traveling for months at a time and shirking your responsibilities back home. Of course, your overseas adventure should be fun and enjoyable, but it should also open your eyes to new possibilities and teach you something new — about the world and/or yourself. In the end, be sure to make good use of your time for a worthwhile, future payoff.

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