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How To Make A Gap Year Look Good to Colleges

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Young female traveler leaning out a window on a train.

You’ve probably heard friends or other people in your life talk about something called a gap year. A gap, which actually could be as short as a semester or longer than a year, is time students can take between graduating high school and starting college. You can do it for many reasons. You might want to get some work experience under your belt, or maybe you just need to get out of a classroom for more than a few months.

Whatever your reason, it doesn’t have to ruin your chances of getting into your dream college. In fact, it can enhance your chances of getting in, if your plan your gap year accordingly.

Communicate Your Plan

It might surprise you, but it could really pay off to tell an admissions counselor that you plan to take a gap year. They can help direct you on the steps to take to get into their institution based on this information. Don’t assume you’re ruining your chances of being admitted by telling them you’re taking a gap year.

There are several reasons that students are admitted and decide to defer their acceptance. A gap year is one of them! If you’re a stellar student whom the college would love to have, they might honor your request to defer your acceptance.

You can even include your plan for your gap year as part of your personal statement or college essay in your application. Be specific about why you’re taking the gap year, how you feel it will benefit you, and what you hope you can offer as a student at the college after the experience.

If you are able to defer, ask about dates for class registration and when the semester begins, so you aren’t late to the game. If you’ll need to apply or reapply later for college admission, make sure you’re aware of the admissions deadlines, so you don’t miss them.

Also, you’ll want to decide if you take your standardized tests before your gap year or during. We recommend taking them before your gap year while you’re still in study mode and attending class. The information you’re learning in school is fresh, and your study habits are active. If you decide to take it during your gap year, look ahead at the dates tests are offered, and create a study plan so you’re not going in cold.

Discover and Research Options

You might not be certain what your career goals are or what you want your major to be in college, and that’s OK! You’re not alone! There are so many options to choose from that it can be overwhelming if you’ve never really sat down and researched everything that is available to you. Surveys show that up to 50 percent of students enter college as undecided.

Your gap year can be a cheaper alternative to explore some of the same things college might help foster while you’re paying full tuition. Here are two examples of how to turn your gap year into your self-led discovery year.

Explore Your Future Career

  • Make a list of careers that you are interested in pursuing.
  • Take assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or StrengthsFinder that provide possible career paths that suit your personality and strengths. If any of the suggested paths are on your first list, put a star next to them because you’ll definitely want to research that one.
  • Ask your parents and other adults you know if you can conduct an informational interview with them to learn more about their jobs. If you don’t know someone in a job field you’re interested in, ask them if they can refer you to someone.
  • Schedule a job shadow day if you’re still interested, or maybe more interested, after the informational interview. This will give you a first-hand perspective on what a day in the life of that job is really like.

Make sure you’re taking notes or keeping a journal of these experiences, so you don’t lose any of the valuable information you’ll receive. You’ll want to set some time aside occasionally to reflect on everything you’ve learned.

Whether you want to be a doctor or a journalist or, there are several ways to make your gap year pay off in a positive way. The opportunities you choose to engage in during your gap year can complement your ambitions. For example:

  • Veterinarian: Volunteer at a dog or cat shelter to help care for the animals there. Maybe you can find a part-time job at a veterinary clinic to learn the business aspect of being a veterinarian.
  • Political Science: If your gap year is during an election season, find a local campaign to work on or engage with a national campaign in your area. Registering voters is a great first step!
  • Teacher: Ask about volunteer opportunities at local schools where you can work with the age group you see yourself teaching after college. If you’re not sure which age group you prefer, many school districts offer after-school care where you can work and be exposed to several grade levels.
  • Criminal Justice: Consider going on ride-alongs with your local police force. There will likely be some more hoops to go through to do this but it’s a great way to get your own first-hand perspective on the reality of the job vs. what you see on “Cops.”
  • Tourism: Learn some of your local history and find a job as a tour guide.

Travel and Gain Perspective

One of the most exciting reasons for a gap year is to travel. It can be an opportunity for someone who has never traveled outside of their hometown or country to experience new cultures, or a chance to spend more time in a place you’ve visited before without the time restrictions of school.

While you’re away, you’ll want to make sure that it will benefit your college application if you’re required to apply again. With the assistance of social media and other technology, you can make your travels attractive to an admissions committee.

If you are planning to have a public outlet available for people to follow you, be sure to include your social media handles and websites in your college applications so the admissions team can check it out too. You can even utilize these ideas to showcase how you’re prepping for your gap year.

  • Start a blog to catalog your adventures: Your blog can act as a travel guide for others or for you to tell your travel story to friends and family. Consider adding some thoughtful posts that show what you’re gaining from your time abroad.
  • Keep a finance tracker: For those planning to major in something money related, creating a budget and tracking it can show your enthusiasm for finance. If you’re able to save, mark it down and explain how.
  • Post on Instagram: If you’re interested in photography, Instagram might be your outlet. Post as often as you feel and remember to include some reflection to show the experience’s personal benefit to you.
  • Create a YouTube channel: There are several channels that showcase students living abroad during and after college, so why not showcase your experience during your gap year? Prospective film students can use this social media platform to hone their editing skills and try out new features.
  • Record Informational Interviews: Sure, you can do these interviews abroad! Find professionals where you’re traveling and see if they’ll chat with you so you can learn about that industry in another area of the world. Make sure you come prepared. LinkedIn is a powerful resource to reach out to these individuals if you don’t have any contacts abroad.



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Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college admissions assistance and mentorship company. Transizion donates a portion of profits to low-income students in need of college and career assistance. Jason has been featured in the Washington Post, NBC News, BBC, Bustle, Forbes, Fast Company, Fox Business, Reader’s Digest, and a number of other outlets.

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