I never planned to take a gap year. I didn’t want one. I had my life planned out: four, maybe three years in college; a year and a half getting my Master’s degree; a blossoming career by the age of 23; return to get a doctorate at 27 years old; and be an experienced professional by my thirties. Time is precious. Taking a gap year was not my first choice—it was a great option for other people and friends who needed it, but just not me.
And yet, here we are, halfway through my gap year. OH HOW FAR WE’VE COME. So how have I not yet bashed in my skull as I’ve embarked on this journey that is inherently “not me?”
Maybe you are interested in taking a gap year? Maybe you are planning a gap year before college or taking a leave of absence from college? Maybe you’ve already decided on taking a gap year, and have the privilege of the time and understanding parents, so what do you do?
I cannot emphasize planning enough and I promise this goes beyond my INTJ Myers-Briggs personality. The worst thing that can happen on a gap year is feeling like you are wasting your time. The best way to avoid having this happen is to plan out your year and have strong backup options in case an internship, an opportunity, something in your gap year falls through. A well-planned gap year is the bones of your year, things can change and grow, but it’s so important. Here are some pointers on how to plan out your gap year.
Divide the year into three or four parts.
I’ve chosen to divide it by season, although that is largely for the uses of recognizing what are good travel times because travel was very important to my year. Dedicate each part to something you want to do like travel, work, etc. There can be crossover such as travel/volunteer work, but it is worth breaking down your year into sections that way when you finish a project or internship, you know what is next.
Know your options!
A year is a lot of time, and the worst thing that can happen is that you stop doing something and start to regret taking this time off. Depending on your budget and time, some of your options include:
- Travel, it could be a road-trip or backpacking internationally.
- Volunteer, dedicate yourself to a cause!
- Work, gaining job experience is always a great boost on your resume and it could help to earn money to fund another part of your gap year (traveling?) or savings for when you head to college.
- Internship, learn new skills and explore a passion or career interest. Internships aren’t just for summer and you can check on availability for fall and spring. Some companies, especially smaller ones that are very hands on, might be open to having an intern even if they don’t post about it. Send an email and see what they say!
- Learn something new, try a new language or instrument or skill that you might have not had the chance to put your time and effort to!
- Combine these! You can take an internship abroad! Learn a new language and volunteer! You can get a paid internship, working for money and explore a career interest. During her gap year, a high school friend of mine got a job working as a venture capitalist in San Francisco and was featured on Wall Street Journal.
Choose something with depth and somethings with breadth.
As you divide up your year, keep in mind what you want to get out of this year. You might want to explore more depth in what you already know you are interested and passionate about. For me, that is journalism so I took on an internship with a news organization. However, don’t forget that this is also a year to explore and try new things! Dedicate one part of the year to something you haven’t done before and might not have done if you didn’t take this gap year. For me, this is studying computer science.
Always be doing something.
It sounds like a high demand, and maybe you wanted to take this year off to relax a bit more. However, I cannot stress how important it is to do something or have something planned for every part of the year, especially when you see your friends and classmates heading back to college. For me, this is still very hard. There is nothing I would love more than to be at college, studying and doing research, but I can’t so I have to keep myself upbeat and busy.
Make it yours.
This is a year about you and I don’t mean that in a narcissistic self-centered way, but rather that this is an opportunity for you to focus on your growth and development. Get excited about this year, because it can be hard sometimes—really hard. Personalize it! Make a vision board! Make a Pinterest board about your gap year! Start a YouTube channel! 😉
Leave room for space.
I am enthused on planning, but new things happen and somethings choices and options make themselves available through the year. When you first begin your gap year in the fall, you might not know what you are going to be doing the summer before you finish and that is alright! Some things you can block in as “travel-time” or “internship/volunteer” time. Be ready to adapt and change your plans as necessary, but do have a backup plan, in case nothing happens—the worst is having nothing to do.
Maybe you’ve waited for a long time for this, this is your chance. Go for it. Or you might not think a gap year is for you, but you can do it.
Hopefully these pointers gave you someplace to start planning. It’s also worth doing your research and seeing if there is a program you might want to do that tackles one or two sections of your gap year. If you want to see an example of how this planning goes, I’ll be posting a video on my YouTube channel of “Planning My Gap Year Pt. 2” tomorrow, so go check it out! If you have questions or thoughts, let me know what you think in the comment section below!