Mind the Gap

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Taking time to further develop their maturity, gain life-altering perspectives, and pursue academic and career interests in a different setting—maybe even across the world—is growing in popularity for high school seniors headed towards higher education.  It’s called taking a “gap-year,” and it is not something that only the young can benefit from.  Taking some time off to pursue interests in a foreign place is also a healthy venture for adults, and in more ways than one.

For high-school graduates, many colleges are actually encouraging the idea of a gap-year.  Some, like Princeton, are even offering a bridge-year programs that take kids around the world.  Counselors have realized that often when a student returns from a gap-year they come back with more motivation, more maturity, and better prepared for college.

There is a pitfall, however.  A gap year is not a year devoted to goofing off and slacking.  It is a year designed for personal and intellectual growth that should produce many challenges.  There are many businesses that cater to gap year students, offering them internships, jobs, and volunteer opportunities while providing room and board abroad.  While many feel the structured programs help keep students motivated, it’s important to acknowledge that these programs come from lucrative businesses, many just masquerading as idealistic programs.  That being said, be sure to do some research beforehand if you do so chose to opt for the structure of a program.

Sometimes the structure and hand-holding of programs can constrain the main benefit of a gap-year: to further grow and become more mature.  Some people may prefer the growth that comes along with independence.  There are many opportunities to volunteer to intern in a foreign land without the help of a specific program.  Volunteering and backpacking through a different country is a great way to grow culturally, personally, and is something that looks great on a resume.

The ability to travel and allow for one’s personal growth is not something that should be wasted on the youth.  Although it’s very rare, and becoming increasingly more so, taking a gap year between life stages is a way that adults can reap the benefits of travel and a break from the mundane rat-race that all to easily consumes our adult years.  Whether it’s between undergraduate and graduate, schooling and the workplace, or a change in jobs or even careers, a year to travel, volunteer, and learn is an option to keep in mind.  Yes, the economy is suffering currently.  Right now in the U.K, where gap years at multiple stages of life used to be pretty common, the amount of people taking a year to explore is dwindling.  U.K. undergraduates are now more likely to be applying for jobs—the average is 7 at once—throughout their final year of schooling, rather than planning an adventure to celebrate their youth and just being alive.  To me, at least, these opportunities, between the cycles and routines we often find ourselves, to get out and explore are more than worth the risk.

Quick Tips for those you are thinking of taking a gap year

1). PLAN

Spontaneity is good, and everyone grows from it, but these moments of surprise and impulse should be surrounded by very careful planning.  Getting the opportunity to volunteer in a developing country is great.  Becoming sick or injured without healthcare in a developing country is not.


I know this goes along with planning but have a goal of something you wish to accomplish, then research ways to make that possible.  Although, be sure to leave me gaps for surprises to occur.

3).  MONEY

If you’re a student, don’t expect your parents to pay for everything—or anything for that matter.  If you wish to just backpack or enter a program that costs money, spend some time working and budgeting so you can afford.  Always remember a budget, there are many ways to travel cheap.


If it’s possible (more reasonable for students) try to get into whatever you want to do next, whether that’s a college, or a new job.  Then ask for a year deferral.


Being socialable is incredibly important while traveling.  Try to pick up on the culture and language and make friends with the people around during your stay.

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