8 Reasons Why a Gap Year Is a Good Idea

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We know what it’s like. You’re graduating from high school, and you’ve been a student your whole life up until this point. It looks like your options are to continue being a student or… what? Is there another option? There is.

Maybe you’re sure you want to go to college. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you just aren’t sure at all yet what you want to do with your life. Guess what? That’s normal. And a gap year can help you.

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1. Taking a gap year will help you figure out who you are apart from your label as a “student.”

We definitely recognize the value of education, which is why we dedicate ourselves to providing service learning trips that allow you to gain experiential knowledge outside of a classroom. That said, there is SO MUCH to learn outside of a classroom setting, and you can see who you are as a person and what you enjoy outside of school before you dedicate yourself to continuing to study and before you decide what major to choose.

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2. People who take a gap year have a better idea of what they want to study when they go to college.

As if college wasn’t stressful enough, having to decide on a major can be one of the most stressful decisions you make. And it’s not something to be taken lightly; deciding what you want to study for the next few years and do as a career when you’ve just gotten out of high school and are still figuring yourself out is a pretty big deal. BUT, a gap year can help you with that. You’ll get to see multiple disciplines that could interest you, try them out to an extent, and make an educated choice instead of a guess.

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3. Gap year participants have a higher rate of college completion.

Since you’ll be starting college with a good idea of what you’d like to do already, you know you’ll be studying something that you’re likely to enjoy and connect with. This means less chance of burn-out, and classes won’t feel like a waste of time because you know what you’re working towards.

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4. You’ll learn how to “adult” before going to college.

The adulting struggle is real. Trust us, we know. There are so many things to learn, and it’s hard to try to get a hold on how to do “real life” in the middle of also trying to pass exams, finish projects, sleep a couple hours a night, eat something other than coffee, and maybe have a small social life. During a gap year, you’ll have time to travel, volunteer, work (yes, you can actually work without a college degree!), or do a combination of the three, and you’ll learn skills that will be invaluable throughout the rest of your life such as navigating airports and public transportation in places you’re not familiar with, learning to take initiative in different situations, and even knowing how to do your taxes (a necessary evil). These are all things you’ll be expected to know when you’re out in the “real world,” and you’ll be a step ahead of your peers if you already know how it all works.

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5. You’ll discover yourself by losing yourself.

Sounds like an oxymoron, but if you get involved in something greater than yourself such as volunteering for a cause that is important to you or traveling out of your comfort zone, you’ll realize that not only will you grow as a person, but you’ll also learn about yourself within the context of something bigger. When you push your limits, you’ll see more of yourself–the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly–than you would if you stayed in your own bubble, and you’ll get to choose how to let that knowledge affect you. This aspect of self discovery can really make a gap year an invaluable experience of self growth.

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6. If you travel abroad, you’ll gain cultural competency.

If you keep an open mind, the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can learn from traveling abroad. Not only will you learn about other cultures, but you’ll learn from them too. You’ll also learn about your own culture (Ever think you didn’t have a culture? A gap year can change that.) and you’ll have to decide what aspects of your own culture, ideals, and perspectives you want to keep, and which ones you might like to trade, combine, or add to your life from the host culture. You’ll also gain a great deal of independence; getting out of your comfort zone will force you to grow in ways you didn’t know you could, and you’ll see every new experience that comes at you with new, more confident eyes. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to navigate different environments, whether that be in work or life in general, and you’ll be able to adapt to campus cultures, work cultures, or any sort of culture you find yourself in with relative ease.

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7. Thinking about a gap year but already been accepted to college? No problem.

Maybe you’re thinking that a gap year is right for you, but you’ve already been accepted and feel stuck. Well, worry not! Many schools have deferral programs, which means you can postpone your acceptance until the next year. In fact, your school will likely be impressed that you want to take a year off to figure yourself out first instead of trying to do it in the midst of deadlines and all-nighters. Contact your admissions counselor to find out if this is an option for you!

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8. If you make the most of your gap year, you will gain one of the most important skills you can have: adaptability.

Your gap year itself will probably not go exactly as you plan. You may have grand plans of traveling the world or of getting an awesome job that just fall through for some reason or another. You might not get to do everything you want to do during that year. But you might, and that’s part of the beauty of it. Even if you don’t get to do everything on your list, whatever you do will be a step towards becoming who you want to be. You’ll learn to go with the flow, accept situations as they come to you, and work through them rather than fighting against them. When things are out of your control, you’ll see “obstacles” as mountains to conquer and even “problems” as new opportunities to learn from instead of struggle through.

Traveling, volunteering, and working are all fantastic ways to spend your time, and a combination of the three is arguably the most valuable way to use your gap year. Volunteering will stretch you and help you see the value in getting involved in something important to you. Working will show you what you’re capable of and will help you figure out what you enjoy doing. Traveling will help you learn to navigate a different culture and potentially a different language, and it will teach you to go with the flow. Really, a gap year can be life changing if you come at it with an open mind, and it will prepare you for your life adventure in unexpected ways. So, look at that beautiful future, take a deep breath, and run towards it.

Want to start off your gap year with four weeks of learning and volunteering in Nicaragua and Costa Rica? Check out ISL Gap Year here.