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How Gap Years Work

        Culture | Schooling

Gap Year Planning
Your gap year can be as structured or unstructured as you want. Fortunately, there are organizations out there that can help you plan.
Your gap year can be as structured or unstructured as you want. Fortunately, there are organizations out there that can help you plan.
JGI/Jamie Gill/Blend Images/Getty Images

So you've decided to take a gap year. What's next? A whole lot of planning. Fortunately, there are some basic guidelines and questions you can ask yourself to narrow your focus and prepare for a life-changing year away from school.

Broadly speaking, experts suggest potential gappers keep three rules in mind when planning their year off. First, it's important to go ahead and apply to college so you have some direction after you get back. Many schools are willing to work with students to hold their place as long as they're taking a year off to do something constructive.

Which leads to the second point: Gap years should be structured; the last thing you want to do is spend your gap year sitting on the couch and watching TV at your parents' house. This is particularly important if you aren't enrolling in a program that schedules everything out for you. Finally, if your gap year plans cost money, you need to help pay those expenses. Sure, this is a bit of a downer, but students who are financially invested in their time off will probably take it a little more seriously [source: Hoder].

With these things in mind, you can get down to the specifics. How much time do you have? Will you go alone or with friends? Are you going to create your own gap year, or are you better off with some structure? Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do there? Can you get college credit, and how would you go about doing that? Of course, a lot of this depends on your budget, which we'll get into more in the next section [source: AGA, "Planning Your Gap Year"].

If you decide to go with a program, it's important to do a little research before you commit. Ask about their typical students and what a typical day is like. See if you can talk to some references, or, at the very least, look at what others have said in online reviews. You'll also want to make sure the program has some safety measures in place in case of emergency. Some organizations, like the American Gap Association, have already done some of this legwork for you through their accreditation program [source: AGA, "Planning Your Gap Year"].


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