Mind the Gap (Year): Should You Take a Year Off?

If you are about to cross the finish line of high school (and even if you’re a bit behind or beyond that mark), you may be contemplating taking a gap year. What is a gap year? What is(n’t) it good for? Is it for you? How you answer these questions could change the course of your life, and definitely the outlook for your next year.

What is a gap year, anyway? Though it can be understood in different ways, a gap year generally refers to choosing to do something other than go to college immediately after graduating from high school. You could dedicate this time to take on a full-time job, travel, volunteer, tackle a project, launch a business, start an initiative or organization, or any combination or deviation from these actions. Conversely, a gap year should NOT be a time to aimlessly goof off! If you’re feeling burnt out, talk with supportive adults like your guidance counselors and guardian(s) about options to help you recharge and refocus.

When I was a senior in high school, I reflexively aimed at college without considering alternatives. If current me could be a big sister to high-school-senior me, I would tell her what I’m about to tell you now:

  1. Be strategic. Think of it not as a gap year, but as a growth year. This is a chance for you to develop your skills, self-knowledge, and opportunities! What course of action do you want to take post-graduation? What are your goals in doing that? Will the goals you’ve prioritized be best served by that course of action, or would something else be more efficient or effective?
  2. Be realistic. Do you have all of the prerequisite resources? Consider money, social support, life skills, technical skills, etc. Determine which of these things you already have, which you can develop in time for your growth year, and which seem to be beyond your grasp at this time. If after problem-solving you still can’t think of ways to obtain essentials, you will need an alternative plan.
  3. Be intentional. Craft a mission statement for the upcoming year. What are you trying to do and what specific steps will you take to achieve it? If you do choose to pursue a growth year, it will be key to guide yourself by asking “Will this serve my mission?” at each step of your journey.
  4. Be prepared. Have plans ready for all reasonably likely outcomes. This will certainly include post-growth year. It will also include beta plans for if your growth year doesn’t go as you expect. Talk about these plans with your mentor(s), as well as those who will be affected by your choices.

There are no rote nor easy answers to the best way to live. Your smartest bet is to know yourself and what you care about. Design your life around who you are and what matters most to you. Use your strengths and take realistically optimistic action to reach your goals. No matter what you choose, be honest with yourself and true to the person that you aspire to be!

Talk with your friends about your post-graduation plans. Help each other to make smart life choices that will enable you all to flourish individually and together.