A gap year can help you prevent burnout and contemplate a new direction in life. You can get the most out of this year by staying flexible with your plan.

Gap years are a hotly debated topic.

Some love the idea of taking a year off from your life’s traditional trajectory to explore the unknown. But others prefer to stick to their determined path. 

No matter where you stand in life, a gap year could be the right choice for you. However, it is not the right choice for everyone

What is a gap year?

According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year is:

“a semester or year or experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

That’s a lot to take in!

Ultimately, a gap year is a period in which you choose to step away from the current trajectory of your life. Traditionally, people choose to take gap years before or after college. But technically, you can take a gap year at any point throughout your career. 

Why you should take a gap year

You’ll find plenty of reasons why you should take a gap year. Some of the most prominent reasons include:

Self-exploration

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As you move through life, it is normal to run into some confusion along the way. After all, there are so many directions you can take in life. It can be hard to know which way to turn. The right gap year could help the perfect way to sort through your feelings and determine what you want your life to look like. 

Thomas Jespen, CEO of Passion Plans, says:

“I felt confused after high school. I had in fact gotten into the college I had wanted to go for but remember I woke up one day thinking I was making a mistake. My gap year was the best self-exploration journey I have ever undertaken.”

Avoid burnout

Constantly staying engaged in our school or work can be draining. Unfortunately, many students say they are burnt out in school. In fact, a study conducted by the Ohio State University’s Office of Chief Wellness Officer found that 71% of students reported burnout in April 2021. Kassandra Marsh, owner of Lakazdi, says:

“Going straight from high school into university seemed like no big deal at the time, but after a semester at university, it was clear that I needed a break after so many years of continuous education.”

When she returned from the gap year, Marsh had more enthusiasm to tackle the degree. 

Gain work experience

Work experience can help you decide what you like, and perhaps more importantly, what you don’t like. In a gap year, you can choose to work in any field to see what is out there. 

June Escalada, co-founder of PhotoshopBuzz, took a gap year between high school and college. The overarching goal was to study for a big exam. But Escalada says, “I also took some time to work part-time and travel.” The experience helped her learn how to be part of a team and deal with coworkers.

Save for school

College can be incredibly expensive. Depending on the path you take, you might not be comfortable taking out too many student loans. With that, a gap year could serve as the perfect opportunity to work and save for your degree. 

Need some help saving for college? Here are our top tips for teenagers

Explore while you have the chance

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A gap year is an incredible opportunity to see the world or explore whatever your heart desires. 

Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love, didn’t have the opportunity to take a gap year. But looking back, he sometimes wishes he had.

“At this stage in my life and with all of the responsibilities that I have, taking a gap year really isn’t possible anymore, so I do sometimes wish that I had done it while I had the chance.”

Should you take a gap year?

As with every big decision in life, there are some major advantages and disadvantages to taking a gap year. You can weigh the benefits in your own life. Ultimately, it may come down to a gut decision that only you can make with your heart. 

At the end of the day, you need to take a few things into account before you make a decision:

  1. Can you afford to take a gap year? This entirely depends on what you want to do with your gap year. If you’re looking to travel the world, consider if your finances can handle that.
  2. Does taking a gap year align with your future goals? If school is going well, then you might not want to break up your momentum. This is especially true if you are already set on a particular career path that you don’t have any doubts about.

How to make the most of your gap year

If you decide to take a gap year, here’s how to get the most out of it. 

Determine what you want to gain from your gap year

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A gap year will be a highly personal experience. With that, you should have a general idea of what you want to gain from your gap year before jumping in. 

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Satisfy your wanderlust by traveling around the globe.
  • Save for college with a job.
  • Volunteer your community to see what types of work you enjoy. 
  • Learn a new skill. 
  • Explore another part of yourself. 

The reasons why you take a gap year will vary. But without a broad purpose in mind, it can be tempting to settle into an easy routine around the house. After all, it is all too easy to dive into a Netflix series or escape reality in your favorite virtual world instead of getting the most out of this unique year. 

Sketch out a plan

Depending on your personality, you may want a plan that covers all the details. But even a plan that covers just the broad strokes can be very helpful. 

For example, you may set up your first volunteering gig. But decide to see where that takes you. Or you might map out a tour of the places you want to visit. 

As you embark on this adventure, it might be a good idea to enter the experience with an open mind and a willingness to make changes along the way. 

Consider your finances

Personal finances will play some role in your gap year. If you have funds available, that might open the door to travel. If you are light on funds, you might decide to pursue opportunities closer to home. 

You can get creative with your finances to make a gap year successful. If you need funds, consider picking up a flexible side hustle or learning an in-demand skill that can travel with you. 

Summary

A gap year could be the right move for your future. But only you can decide if it is a good choice for your life. 

Don’t forget to consider the finances required to fund this adventure. You may want to build savings before jumping in. 

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About the author

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Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer covering retirement, investing, debt, savings, credit cards, mortgages, and student loans. Additionally, she is the founder of Adventurous Adulting, a personal finance blog dedicated to helping readers tackle their money and take control of the adventure of life. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.