Mapping Your Future: Three good reasons and three bad reasons for taking a gap year after high school

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Three good reasons and three bad reasons for taking a gap year after high school

By Catherine Mueller

October 27, 2015

Mention a gap year, and I immediately have visions of backpacking through Europe, exploring other cultures, meeting new people, and having plenty of time to think and to figure out what life's all about.

The idea of taking a gap year after high school never occurred to me, and even if I had thought of it, I would have figured it was a luxury I couldn't afford. Go to college or get a job – those were the two options we faced. Now, it seems that more and more Americans are taking a gap year after high school. It may not be exactly how I envision a gap year – but for high school graduates, there are both good and bad reasons to take a gap year.

Good reasons to take a gap year include:

  • Deciding what career you want to pursue. Maybe you haven't figured out exactly what you want kind of work you want to do.  Use the gap year to volunteer or apprentice in different jobs. For example, if you think you want to be a veterinarian, work in an animal clinic to see how much you enjoy it. Having some first-hand experience with different jobs can give you an idea if it's a field you want to pursue – before spending a lot of money and time in college.
  • Saving money for your education. In addition to giving you time to think about what career you want to pursue, the year will give you an opportunity to work and save money for college. Spending the year working and saving money can be a great benefit later on when you don't have to borrow money (or as much money) for your education
  • Growing up. Maybe your parents woke you for school, cooked and cleaned for you, and generally took care of most of your needs. Use this year to begin doing those things for yourself – in preparation for being out on your own or in college.

Here are some bad reasons to take a gap year:

  • Taking a year off to just relax. Using the year to sleep in, chat with friends, and play video games may be fun, but it's not productive. Remember, you need to figure out what you want to do with your life, and it's not likely these activities will help. Take some time to relax and think – yes. But don't waste too much time, instead spend it on activities that will help determine what you should pursue for your life's work.
  • Needing the income from a job. Getting a job during your gap year is a good thing for the experience and for the money you can save for your future. However, if that job isn't what you want for your life's work, don't get too dependent on the income. If you're dependent on the income because of debt or other reasons, you won't place a high priority of pursuing your education and your dreams and could be stuck in a dead-end job for the rest of your life.
  • Getting as far away from school as possible. I understand – not everyone has a great experience or fond memories of high school. But just because high school wasn't great, that doesn't mean other educational pursuits will be the same. For some people, high school may have been disappointing but college or other education was their opportunity to blossom.

If you are lucky enough to take a gap year, use it wisely. Who knows? If you take a gap year for all the right reasons, maybe you'll be able to figure out what life is all about.

When you are ready to pursue further education, be sure to visit Mapping Your Future's Preparing for College page.