“Gap year.” The dreaded phrase. Some people are dead set on making you believe that a gap year is the ultimate procrastination, setting your academic and professional career back, ruining your resume, and, quite possibly, landing you a job in the pooper-scooper industry. Others would tell you that you should take a gap year no matter what. That it's the thing to do. Only squares stay in school the whole time. If you don't take a gap year, you're missing out on thousands of important experiences that will make you boring (*gasp*).
And they're both a little bit right.
But mostly, they're wrong.
Here are four reasons you should consider taking a gap year, and how to execute it effectively, to make the most of your memories — and your resume.
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1. Tragedy has struck
Sometimes horrible things can happen that will affect your schoolwork. Perhaps a family member or a friend has passed away. Maybe your parents divorce or your sibling is diagnosed with some disease. Earth-shattering things happen all the time, with no warning, and sometimes the best thing you can do is back off from academics to save your GPA in the long run.
Use this time wisely, but be gentle. Go to group therapy, and spend time outdoors and reading. Reconnect with people you're not as close to anymore. Consider going to networking events. If you’re planning to attend a school for a harder subject, (science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), for example) make sure to take a little time each week to practice the skills you already have so you’re not overwhelmed when you finally go back to school. Most importantly; give yourself time every day to work through all of the emotions and trauma that might be dragging you down.
2. You've been having trouble with studying/your GPA
First of all: this is different from being lazy.
This does not mean you refuse to do homework on purpose, and you fail a class and you give up because you think college sucks and is/will be too hard.
I'm talking about the people who have worked hard trying and things just aren't connecting or sticking with them. Maybe you never learned effective study habits, or maybe the classes you’re planning on taking are a subject you struggle with, and you're going about it in a way that isn't working. Eventually, this sort of thing can take a toll on you, and the low GPA that accompanies a lull in learning can discourage you and bring you down emotionally.
Of course, in this situation, you could just jump right in and try all over again with a new strategy, but maybe that sounds too risky, or maybe you've already done that.
In that case: take the gap year.
Spend your new-found free time to investigate your learning style. Take comprehensive learning style tests, read books about what that means. Read books about everything: how your brain works, different study styles, how to build habits, etc.
Practice managing your time wisely: develop and hone daily task management skills.
This is your chance to become a task management machine; take it. Use it. Then get registered and give it your all, and you'll be amazed at how great your educational experience will be.
3. You're doubting or can’t decide on your major/college choice
Sometimes we spend years thinking that we want one thing; that we want to be one thing, or that one college is our ultimate dream. Occasionally, we're wrong. One of the things we're lead to believe we should do is to just push on and take the best option and pursue our chosen major so we don't lose any time.
This advice is fine, don't get me wrong. But sometimes we just don’t know what we want. Now, if you know without a doubt that you want to go to a specific school for a specific major, please do, but, if you don't know, if you're a little confused, and you're not sure what these weird feelings mean, then a gap year might be worth some serious consideration.
Look at a gap year as an opportunity to narrow down your goals, dreams, and passions: experiment with different aspects of the careers you’re considering. Look into them, read books on them, see if you can find anyone to job shadow, or any seasonal internships. Do physical or virtual tours of the schools you’re considering, and try to talk to a few current students or college alumni about their experiences there. You have time ahead of you that you can put towards coming to understand what you want and what that means for you, now and in your future.
4. Money issues
We all grow up believing that scholarships aren’t that hard to get, and that if you just work hard and apply for a lot, you’ll be able to go to college. Or we’re told that federal financial aid will cover what our scholarships (or lack thereof) don’t. The truth here is that, sometimes, that just isn’t the case. Finding scholarships can be hard, and if it’s not hard to get one, chances are there are many other people trying to get that money, too.
And, sometimes, our parents just make a little too much money, and suddenly your financial aid options are limited.
Taking a couple semesters after high school to work your and to save up enough for a semester or two is understandable, and, honestly, a really good idea! Just remember to apply for admission and, if admitted, to register for classes on time, and to watch your spending. Be honest with yourself about where you’ll be able to go to school based on whatever income you’ll earn.
Of course these are only a few examples. No matter what I say, some of you will take a gap year just for the fun of it, and some of you will stick through your initial plans. It happens. Just remember that you can make any choice or circumstance into an opportunity, you just have to open your eyes — and mind — wide enough to see your options.