There are plenty of good reasons to consider taking a “gap year” between the end of high school and the start of college. Common reasons for gap years include health complications, financial situation, resume building, and more. However, regardless of the reason, the decision to take a gap year is not one that should be taken lightly. If you decide to take a gap year, you must recognize that colleges will likely ask you to explain the motivation for your decision and how you spent that time. Although the extra admission essay might seem daunting at first, if you spent you gap year wisely, this task should come fairly easily and will actually act to your benefit, as it will give you the opportunity to spend more time talking about how awesome you are.
To give an example of a successful gap year experience, I would like to share the real story of one of my friends who we’ll call John. John was brilliant, but when it came to his college decision, he did not get into any of his top-ranked schools. Rather than attend a university he knew he wouldn’t like, John decided to spend a year doing research and then reapply again the following year. As he explains it, he spun the globe, stopped it with his finger, and bought a one-way ticket to the country it landed on: Cambodia. Fortunately for John, French used to be the official language of Cambodia, and he had studied French in high school. Upon arriving in Cambodia and getting settled, he conducted an experiment based on a series of interviews on the lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge regime on Cambodians. He then published a book with his findings. When he returned to the United States, he had admissions offers from all the top universities in the country.
John’s story demonstrates how impactful a gap year can be if done correctly. He knew that his resume was lacking as compared to that of other applicants, so he picked a location, did the necessary research on Cambodia to come up with an interesting topic for his study, and used his time off to gain experience that made him stand out from his peers. In other words, though it might appear spontaneous, he went in with a plan. This theme of “going in with a plan” tends to pervade most of the successful gap years that I have seen. Of course, you are not expected to travel to a foreign country and do research in rural villages. For example, an aspiring psychologist may spend the year interning at the NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology (as I did). The most important thing is just to do SOMETHING that gives you interesting experiences that you would not be able to do were you to start college immediately.
The worst thing you can do is just sit at home and do nothing. Unfortunately, this is a trap I see all too often. In school our parents and teachers always pushed us to take on more and more activities and do more and more work. For the first time in your life, you’ll feel free. However, many do not know how to structure days for themselves and inevitably just let the days pass by without any progress. To prevent this trap, I suggest getting outside help. Hermiona offers gap year consultation services just for this. I have actually used this service in my own life after I graduated from college, so I can personally testify to its quality. Hermiona’s mentors come from all backgrounds, so we can always find one that best matches your interests. Mentors are great because they hold you accountable to the schedule you create and because you can bounce ideas of them: “Should I take the programming internship in San Francisco or volunteer in Ghana?” This can add a bit more structure for those who struggle to create it for themselves.
Ultimately, there is no one “correct” gap year experience. Rather it is about making a conscious effort to use your time off to gain experience on which you can build a you transition to the next stage of your life in college.