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How Gap Years Work

        Culture | Schooling

Gap Year Types
Gap years aren't supposed to be about sitting around watching TV. You can make the most of your year by learning, traveling and volunteering.
Gap years aren't supposed to be about sitting around watching TV. You can make the most of your year by learning, traveling and volunteering.
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You can't blame parents for getting a little nervous when thinking about what their teenager might do with a year off. After all, some British kids (not all) have been known to treat their break as a year-long party. In the United States, however, students who take a gap year are largely expected to do something constructive with their time; otherwise, that lull in their resume might make it harder for them to get into the college of their choice or even interfere with landing their dream job.

There are a couple of main ways you can go about taking a gap year. One is to enroll in a structured program offered by an organization that specializes in the activity or geographic region you're interested in experiencing. The other is a more do-it-yourself approach: You can come up with your own path to self-discovery.

Whatever path you choose, potential gap-year experiences may fall into, or combine elements of, the following categories laid out in Kristin White's "The Complete Guide to the Gap Year":

  • Volunteer. Whether internationally or closer to home, getting to know another culture and the problems they face is a great way to help others while also helping to broaden your perspective.
  • Immerse yourself in a culture. To truly understand what it's like to live in other places, live with another family and learn the language.
  • Explore the outdoors. Try something like sailing, backpacking, or mountain climbing to connect with nature and challenge yourself in the process.
  • Help the environment. Many students get a great sense of purpose and fulfillment working to build trails or save a species.
  • Explore your artistic side. Whether you're honing your painting skills in Italy, writing a novel or composing music on your own, learning to be creative is a great way to spend a gap year.
  • Take the trip of a lifetime. You can join a program that organizes group trips or do your own thing with friends, but try move beyond the tourist experience by staying with locals and participating in volunteer activities when possible.

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