Most high school students don’t consider or even put much thought into any other option besides immediately attending college after graduating. At my high school, the guidance counselors didn’t tell you of anything else. But neither did my parents or my peers or the media I was exposed to. When I realized I didn’t exactly like the one size fits all approach that had been handed to me, I started digging for something else. I decided I didn’t want to immediately attend college, so I started researching what other options there were, if there were even going to be any. I found that taking a gap year was the most commonly taken action for people who didn’t want to go straight to college like me.
To get technical, a gap year is a period of time typically about a year, taken between high school and college, or during college. While on a gap you don’t attend school and instead pursue endless other opportunities such as traveling, working, and volunteering before returning to school. Some argue that if you leave school you’ll most likely not return and it’ll be very hard to return if you do. This is actually false, the American Gap association, which is an association that certifies gap year programs and companies based on safety, experience, and a panel of other standards, states that statistically 90% of those who take a gap year return to school within a year. The term gap year itself is quite wide, because a gap can be anything from working full time to traveling luxuriously to nannying in South America.
WHY GO GAP?
According to the American Gap association, the top reasons people choose to take a gap are:
– Travel and experience world cultures.
– Gain life experience and grow personally.
– Take a break from the academic track.
– Explore other study options.
– Volunteer in country or abroad.
– Explore career options.
– Gain real life work experience.
– Learn other languages.
Does any of that peek your interest?
I was surprised when I found so many different options! I wondered why there were that many programs and options out there. In the UK it’s much more widely accepted, and is viewed just as common as going straight to university. After stumbling across the American Gap association and browsing their certified companies, I found a company with a program that fit me perfectly. The Leap, a UK based NGO and its program in Tanzania, Africa.
My gap consisted of me living in Tanzania for ten weeks in the beginning of 2016. While there I volunteered and completed a business internship for a safari company. It was the most influential mind expanding trip and experience of my life so far. Upon returning from Africa I continued my gap semester by finding intriguing opportunities that I believed would give me hindsight into what I wanted to have as a career and lifestyle. I completed an internship for a U.S. Senator, started two new jobs, and grew exponentially in self, mind, and body.
If you’re thinking of taking a gap, or maybe just aren’t totally feeling high school, I want you to know that it’s completely normal and okay. You are not alone in your feelings, and I have some tips as someone who’s been through the whole process.
-Your gap can be as simple as staying in your hometown and full fledge adulting. This may sound boring, but living without school after 13 years of it is a big game changer socially and your life will be different.
-As I mentioned before because of the quantity of UK and European citizens who take gaps there are endless organizations and companies who have created programs especially for gappers. And yes, we do get a cool name. I’ll go more into detail on different program options that are out there later on.
– It does cost money. But not as much as you think. Depending on your choice of activity it can range from $100 to $40,000.
-This one is unexpected; your friends and family will not be as supportive as you think. You will have to build the courage and strength to believe in your decision and assert it as the right one. Going outside of society norms draws eyes to you whether you like it or not, but you can use it in a positive way.
– It will NOT negatively affect your educational career. It will hands down expand your knowledge, understanding, and drive. Colleges actually when a student has taken a gap year. It shows a self-driven individual who is able to look and live outside of the box.
– There’s no better time than when you are 18 to go travel and push your comfort limits. You will have the blast of your life and make great friends and connections on the way.
-It provides you with an academic break that can be refreshing and reviving of your want to study and succeed.
Here are some popular websites and organizations I recommend checking out in your search.
Gap Year Companies & NGOs: Many companies offer various duration trips to countries worldwide. I personally went with a UK based company called The Leap. They offer programs in countries from Tanzania to Ecuador to Thailand. They give you the option of 6 or 10 weeks. Programs like this usually leave a few times a year. Their programs offer volunteer placements, internship placements and many other things. Companies like The Leap are great for first time travelers because they usually take care of your accommodation, food, and travel for you. Which is great because I’m guessing you don’t know how to access local transport in foreign countries.
Check out: http://theleap.co.uk/
Au Pair: Au pairing is basically being a live in nanny in a foreign country. Aupairworld.com is hands down the best site of matching you with a family. This is mainly for women and offers you the opportunity to work and make money while living abroad.
Check out: http://aupairworld.com/
International Volunteer Headquarters or IVHQ: IVHQ offers fairly cheap volunteer placements in a huge list of countries. One thing to be careful with is sites like this that don’t take care of everything as much as a full-fledged gap year company will. You will have to do more preparation for a trip like this.
Check out: https://www.volunteerhq.org/
Finding a Job Abroad: There are many jobs available at touristy places like ski lodges and resorts in Australia and New Zealand that hire international workers specifically. The pay isn’t usually great but you get to work and live down under. One of my fellow leapers (A name given to those who go on a Leap program) worked at a resort in Greece as a sailing instructor or a few months prior to coming to Tanzania. There are more jobs like that then you’d think who are specifically looking for people like you.
Make sure to find the program right for you, and if you really want to do it, work hard to plan and organize it to show that you’re able. If you want to go straight to college that is also totally okay! Just try and be knowledgeable about the other options you have!