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Sick of School? Consider Taking a “Gap Year” Before College

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You’ve written and revised term papers, fought your way through a dozen midnight cramming sessions, and scored passing grades on your final exams. Frazzled but triumphant, you strode across the stage at your commencement ceremony and joined the adult world as a proud high school graduate. Now, you’re gearing up to go to college… to start the whole process over again?!

If the mere thought of going back to the drawing board with your education is more than you can handle right now, you might be a prime candidate for a bit of a breather. The extended break that some high school students choose to take after finishing their secondary schooling is called a “gap year,” and according to recent statistics, it’s a concept that’s really “taking off,” so to speak.

Take Off a Year, Take On a Challenge

The gap year concept is an already long-established tradition in Europe, where a slightly different secondary school system offers students a bit more flexibility. Although it’s taken a bit longer to catch on among hard-working, success-oriented American students, the last few years have seen the number of stateside gap-year programs skyrocket. The trend has dovetailed nicely with the millennial generation’s unique focus on civic engagement and public service, and many gap year volunteerism initiatives have sprung up in the United States over the last decade.

Likewise, many of the competitive colleges that once demanded immediate matriculation from their newly admitted freshmen are now relaxing their policies a bit, recognizing the value that time off might have for some students. But before you get comfy on the couch with the TV remote in one hand and a box of chocolate bonbons in the other, take a moment to carefully consider whether a gap year is the really the right choice for you.

* Are you unsure about your path in life? If your head is still spinning from high school and you feel like you could use some time to figure out your goals and map out where you’re going from here, a gap year might be just what the doctor ordered. Having some time and space to think can help you develop a clearer vision of what you want to get out of your college experience.

* Do you have “education fatigue”? For some students, the thought of diving right back into school immediately after graduating from high school is just too much to bear. If you’re feeling really burnt out, there’s no point in setting yourself up for more stress – not to mention a possible academic meltdown. With some time off under your belt, you’ll be more likely to excel when you decide to get back on track.

* Could your bank account use a boost? For students who are footing their own bill for college, or who are at least contributing to their family’s college fund, a gap year can provide a much-needed opportunity to build up the ol’ net worth. Find a decent-paying position, sign up for all the hours you can handle, and live a very frugal lifestyle. You’ll have a nice financial cushion when you’re ready to start school. Plus, college will probably seem like a breeze after a year of hard labor!

* What’s your Plan B? Although many of the top colleges take a more relaxed approach to gap years these days, admissions officers still prefer to see hard evidence that students made good use of their time off. If you’re considering a gap year, make sure you’ll have some tangible benefits and experiences to show for it.

* Are you certain that a year off won’t derail your plans? Before you make the final decision to take a year off, it’s vital to honestly assess your motives and plans for doing so. Most importantly, you’ve got to determine whether there’s any chance that your year off could gradually turn into two…or five…or more. If you think there’s any risk at all that you might lose the motivation to attend college during your gap year, it may be best to plunge right into your freshman year without first taking a break.

Are you going to be making a beeline for campus right after high school, or do you plan to take some time off before college? If so, what kind of activities do you have lined up for your gap year? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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