So you want to take a Gap Year: Step 1

So you’re interested in taking a break from school to do something really awesome, make unforgettable memories, and go through a lot of personal growth.

That’s amazing! I’m really proud of you! *insert applause emoji and trophy emoji*

Gap years are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s pretty obvious as to why if you ask anyone who’s taken one.

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People take gap years for a variety of reasons. Personally, I was first inspired by my cousin who took one to work in her hometown, save up some money, and take some community college courses to get a few credits out of the way for later. I remember being in middle school when she graduated and stayed home that year. I thought it was a terrific idea. And the adventure started from there.

Being half-French I decided it would be good to see if I could “survive” by myself in France: the ultimate test of my Frenchiness. I wanted to know if I could be on my own in another country, one I was familiar with, but not so familiar with at the same time. I chose Paris because I have fond memories of taking weekend trips as a girl with my maman while visiting my grand-parents in the center of France. We’d leave my baby brother with them and go have fun for a few days. I later decided I wanted to spend some time in a Spanish-speaking place because I had taken Spanish in school and wanted to do some sort of immersion.

Now I must mention that because I knew I wanted to do this for a long time before being a high school senior, my parents knew as well and were not opposed to the idea in the slightest. A bit of history: my American dad took a gap year way back when nobody did that sort of thing. He went, you guessed it, to France and basically re-did his senior year in a French high school, staying with a host family and waiting tables in their fancy restaurant. And of course my maman had always been a traveler, leaving home pretty early to be a French teacher’s assistant in England and later the U.S. against her parents’ wishes.

So they were cool about the whole interrupting-my-education thing.

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That’s not the case for others. So the first steps in planning your gap year are:

  1. Figuring out why you want to take it and what you hope to gain from it
  2. Brainstorming some ideas – there are lots of websites to help you, other travel or student blogs, YouTube videos, etc.
  3. When you have some sort of plan, talk to your parents/guardians about what you want to do.
  4. Start saving money!
  5. You don’t need to decide so far ahead in advance like I did. It’s entirely possible to decide to take a gap year are the last minute. My friend who now goes to Yale decided right after our high school graduation!

Now number 3 is important because when you’re a senior you’re probably still living under your parents/guardians roof, and you might not be financially independent. That’s where number 4 comes in. I started babysitting as a teenager and then worked summer jobs for two years before leaving (I’m also not a huge spender, so that helps!). You can also let your extended family know you’re planning a trip and maybe you’ll get a bit more cash for your birthday. Remember, gap years don’t need to be expensive and out of reach. It all depends on what you want to do, and which opportunities present themselves to you.

But when presenting your plan to your parents, try to anticipate questions they might have – how long you want to go (it doesn’t have to be a whole year), where will you stay, how will you support yourself, safety issues, etc. This lets them know you have thought out the details, and makes you seem well-prepared (because it’s ok if in reality you aren’t!).

Parents might also be upset about not going into college right away, getting side-tracked, the whole “but when you come back you won’t want to study or work again after being on vacation for so long!” spiel. Well you technically aren’t going to miss out on education if you count all that you will learn during this year. Plus, if you live in the U.S., you are fortunate enough to live in a great (although expensive) education system that lets you study pretty much anything and almost anytime. People graduate college at all ages today. Another plus, after school you might start working, and you’ll probably be in the workforce until retirement. So why rush it?

I guess what I want you to take away from this is that the process to plan a gap year may seem daunting at first, but just remember that the possibilities are endless, and that in the end those who discourage you from taking one are not in control of your life. Remember that this is your life, your decisions. Some people, myself included, don’t feel ready right after high school to go right to college. Some don’t go to college at all. And that’s all fine. A gap year is a great way to get some life experience, take time to mature, and then come back and decide what to do with your life.

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Next part: Getting dirty in the details

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