Sunday, June 22, 2008

Make the Most of a "Gap Year"

Not long ago, taking a "gap year" between high school graduation and college was considered a euphemism for slacking off and postponing a young person's entry into the "real world". But recently, with increasing numbers of prestigious colleges and universities coming out in favor of gap years for some students (and even, as in the case of Princeton, creating "bridge" programs to help students gain valuable life experience before entering higher education), the option of pursing a productive year of experience between high school and college is not just acceptable, it's attractive.

Of course, the purpose of a gap year isn't to catch up on soap operas or perfect your gaming skills. A gap year is an opportunity to learn, grow and enrich your life. If planned and executed properly, it can even make you a more desirable and ultimately successful student. So how do you make the most of a gap year?

  • Get into college first. Most colleges will allow you to defer entrance for one year after acceptance. While it's certainly possible to complete applications, etc. while you're pursuing your gap year, it can be challenging to do the paperwork, especially if you plan to be in another country. Plus, who wants to fill up a gap year with completing applications?
  • Do your research. There are numerous reputable programs in which you can participate during your gap year. Find one that meets your interests, then check it out thoroughly. If necessary, hire a consultant to help you plan a rewarding year.
  • Create a plan and stick to it. Without a plan, it's easy to get derailed. Build a time line and set goals for yourself.
  • Take care of the details. Most of your friends are probably heading off to college, creating a social void in your life. Be sure to provide yourself with opportunities to socialize and network. And don't overlook the mundane considerations such as health insurance; without coverage through your parents or college, you may need to buy private insurance.
  • Pause and reflect. As you progress through your gap year, take time regularly to consider if the year is meeting your goals and expectations; if not, create a strategy to get back on track.
  • Live it up! If you've planned effectively, this will be a year you'll remember and reaps the benefits of for the rest of your life. Carpe diem!