It’s becoming more common for students to take a gap year — a year between high school and college — to evaluate career aspirations and develop real-world experience. Taking a gap year doesn’t mean taking a vacation; gap year experiences offer students the opportunities to learn and grow, and potentially see the world through a different lens. If you or your son or daughter is considering a gap year before starting college, consider these tips to make the most of the experience.

7 Gap Year Ideas You Need to Consider

  1. Travel — Gap year travel is very common. In fact, when you hear about students taking a gap year, a backpacking trip through Europe probably comes to mind. Many students will spend a year living the minimalist lifestyle, traveling between hostels and immersing themselves in the culture. If this is the route you or your son or daughter choose, consider making the most of the time with a guided program that weaves in educational content throughout.
  2. Volunteer — There are many volunteer opportunities around the globe and in your own back yard. Whether teaching a skill or rebuilding storm-damaged homes, students can learn a lot about themselves and their communities when they spend a year volunteering. Spending a gap year volunteering can change your worldview, and affect career trajectory. If this sounds appealing, consider seeking out volunteering with programs that offer structured opportunities for students.
  3. Intern — Internships are designed to provide real-world experience by allowing students to gain college credit (often in lieu of a paycheck) for the chance to work in their chosen industry. Think of it this way: If students are trying to decide between a couple of majors and aren’t sure where they want to devote their academic time and energy, spending a gap year interning can help in choosing an academic direction. Students who do this often find a mentor who directs their success and provides another learning resource.
  4. Work in Their Field — If your student already has a bit of experience in his or her field of study, but want to gain true experience before heading to college, consider finding a job and getting paid to test-drive the chosen career. For example, if your son or daughter is interested in a career in radio, having an entry-level job at a radio station can help prepare them for studies and a long-term career in the industry. When they join their peers in college, they may find that they are years ahead in understanding, experience and references.
  5. Chase Adventure — In order to build self-confidence, many students will train for a big goal (think climbing a mountain or completing a triathlon). Devoting time to, and completing, a big personal goal can teach grit and problem solving skills, and give them confidence to tackle big goals in other areas of their life.
  6. Work Abroad — If your son or daughter is treating their gap year as a time to broaden their skill set, and they are confident in their ability to learn a language quickly, working abroad may be the right choice. If they are considering a career in international business, this experience can be invaluable by teaching skills that won’t be found in a textbook. Students considering this option need to plan ahead and apply for student/work visas approximately nine months in advance.
  7. Unplug — More than ever before, students rely on technology to lead them through their days. Spending time doing a “digital detox” (whether the plan is to backpack through a foreign land or simply to work at your local coffee shop) can be really freeing for students. Spending time without devices allows students to enhance communication and problem-solving skills without digital support.

Gap years can be really educational, but they need to be well structured in order for students to reap the most benefits. The year is designed to give your son or daughter time for self-reflection and self-discovery. Many people come back from a gap year with a clearer idea of what they want to do with their lives. So, how do you go about planning the logistics of a gap year?

Planning Your Gap Year

Defer Enrollment

High school seniors should still apply and accept admission to the schools of their choice. But, when they choose to take a gap year, communicate with the college and defer enrollment for a year. Many colleges encourage students to take this time, and are happy to defer enrollment for a semester or a full year.

Paying for the Gap Year

When choosing to take a gap year, work together to create a budget that includes travel, lodging, food, insurance and other living expenses. When you have an idea of the anticipated expenses, you can save or raise money to fund the gap year. Your son or daughter should consider saving money from part time jobs in high school, applying for grants or scholarships or fundraising efforts. Or, consider programs like AmeriCorps have programs that take care of housing and living expenses (and may offer college assistance) in return for helping your community.

Stay Focused Academically

Many people worry that they will lose ground academically by taking a year off between high school and college. However, the opposite is true: Most people who took part in a gap year did better academically than anticipated. So, instead of losing ground, many students came out ahead. Stay in academic mode by reading or journaling about experiences and developing a presentation to use later (possibly for academic credit).

Considering a gap year? Talk to your Farm Bureau agent for smart budgeting tools and education funding options. If you plan ahead, you can make the most of this and all of your academic experiences.