There are plenty of reasons to take a gap year: to develop your skills, see the world, boost your resume, or earn money towards tuition. A gap year can also help you explore your interests and develop a keener idea what career might be the right fit for you.
Don’t worry — we’re not saying you have to commit to a career path right now. But going into college with even some sense of your professional goals can help you tailor your course selection and make your time on campus more productive.
So how do you make it happen? Let us tell you:
Consider the gap year options
Gap years take many forms, so it’s important to have some idea what the options are. The best options for career exploration generally fall into one of three categories.
- Internship programs: Many companies offer formal gap-year internship programs, which allow participants to get a taste of a chosen field, start building a professional network, and begin to learn relevant skills. Many of these programs take place abroad and many supplement work experiences with classroom time. Internship programs often charge significant fees and the positions themselves may be unpaid. These programs are best for people with a strong idea what field they’d like to explore and who are willing and able to make a significant commitment of time.
- Service programs: A service program takes participants to a destination, generally abroad, where they do volunteer work that could range from working on organic farms to teaching English to young children. Some programs also include recreational travel or classroom time, so be sure the mix being offered fits your goals. These programs are generally fee-based, though total costs are often lower than for internship programs. Students interested in careers in humanitarian work, healthcare, conservation, and teaching may find these trips particularly useful.
- Self-designed options: You don’t need to participate in a formal program to have a life-changing gap year. Look for entry-level jobs or volunteer positions in a field of interest. Start a business or engage in independent research. Going it alone allows a little more leeway to make and save money, and to forge your own path, but it lacks the support structures and mentorship a formal program can offer.
Make a gap year plan
- Brainstorm: Ask yourself the classic question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and write down all the answers that occur to you. Don’t just limit yourself to job titles; think about what you want your professional life to look like. Do you want to make sure there is a chance for creative expression? Opportunities for travel? Get all your ideas out.
- Research your top picks: Look at your list and notice which items jump out at you. Then start looking for ways to explore. The gap year listings at TeenLife can help you get an idea of what is possible. And use the powers of the internet to find local businesses, nonprofits, or colleges that might have opportunities matching your interests.
- Consider more than one gap year experience: Sure, we use the term “gap year,” but there are a lot of formal gap programs that last a couple of months or a semester. If you have a passion for science, but also wonder if teaching is for you, you could do a semester-long academic program, then spend a few months volunteering at a school in your hometown.
Remember, when you use your gap year to explore career possibilities, the key word is “explore.” Nothing you do in this year commits you to follow one path when you head to college. But, done properly, a gap year can give you valuable career insight and experience.