How to Make the Most of Your Gap Year

BY Crystal Marsh
Originally published at General Assembly.

While delaying college might seem like a detrimental idea to some, a few colleges have actually begun to recognize the importance of allowing prospective students to spend a year enriching themselves in ways other than traditional academia. Princeton, Tufts, and Oberlin are starting to offer scholarships and even financial aid for students to take a gap year before enrolling full-time.

If you’re not quite ready to begin your college career and want to spend your time in a productive way that will make you stand out from your peers, a gap year may be the right choice for you.

With some planning, a gap year can help set you up for success in your future career.  Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your gap year.

 1. Take part in a program domestically or abroad.

From volunteering to teaching, to internships and study away programs—there are so many options available for taking a gap year.

Do some research on the international or domestic programs that you qualify for. If you have an interest in pursuing a career in tech or business, you can explore internship and study away programs like the ones we offer for undergrad and gap year students at General Assembly. If you’re interested in teaching, you can become certified to teach English abroad. If serving the environment is important to you, volunteer programs that work to protect wildlife might be a great fit.

2. Plan a variety of experiences.

Taking a gap year gives you the time to fully immerse yourself in another culture whether in a different city or country.  Even if you’re planning to stay in your home country, you can still experience different ways of living by traveling to different states and cities. Plan out different experiences, like working or interning and traveling.  If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, now is the time to spend a few months living in an area that speaks it. If you have an idea for a great product, learn how to develop it in General Assembly’s week-long accelerator program.Take the time to help others during your trips, and plan to attend volunteer events. You’ll return home with a much richer and more well-rounded experience.

3. Think about the field you might want to pursue

A gap year can be fun and exciting, but you’ll get more out of the experience if you remember to keep an eye toward your future. While you’re off having these adventures, think about the skills you’re learning, the perspective you’re gaining and how you can apply this to your future academic goals. Ideally, your gap year should provide you with at least some professionally related experience.

When planning how you’ll be spending your gap year, be mindful of the types of work and culture that interest you. For example, if you’re interested in technology and startup culture, spend time interning at a startup. If you’re more included toward agriculture or healthy living, spending some time in America’s farm country may be a great way to gain some insight on how the industry works – and see firsthand where our food comes from.

Your gap year experience can really set you apart from your peers. Top colleges and companies are often looking for people with diverse experiences; the perspective and experience gained from a gap year abroad can often provide that.