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.