How a Gap Year Can Help Change the World and Your Career
What is a gap year? Gap years first became common back in the 1960s. Though it has changed quite a lot over the years, they still often serve a valuable purpose. Once, gap years were all about taking a holiday, and people would travel around the world to enjoy life and experience new things. Nowadays, gap years are all about exploration.
Over time, gap years have become increasingly popular for aspiring college students who aren’t quite ready to decide what path their college career should take. Whether it’s learning a new language or doing volunteer work, gap years provide a break in the fast-paced transition between high school and college. Many high school students see it as an excellent buffer between the next step of education as it can be daunting to immediately step into the next stage of life without quite knowing what they want to do during that stage.
What to Do in a Gap Year
There is much that a student who wants to take a gap year can do. There can be a lot of pressure to go to college immediately after high school, but the truth is, there can be as much educational value in a gap year as can be found in your first year of college. You could choose to learn more about a particular field or major that you’re interested in before pursuing it at school. With little to no distraction from other classes and homework, it is possible to engage more fully in areas of interest on a much more substantial level. It is possible to visit places or work in hands-on environments without constraints on time. Another opportunity would be to talk with professionals or enthusiasts within fields that you may be interested in. These are all things that may not be possible without the time afforded by a gap year.
Exploring Your Passion for Animals During Your Gap Year
If you are passionate about animals, as an example, there are plenty of opportunities you can pursue during your gap year. Not only can these be fun and fulfilling, but this can also help you decide whether you want to study animals in school. (Unity College offers career-building degrees in Animal Science and Animal Health and Behavior—the kinds of education that can really be helped with a gap year experience working directly with animals.) You can volunteer, or you can work part-time to earn money while learning to work with different types of animals. Here are a few activities involving animals that you can pursue:
- Volunteer at an animal shelter. Animal shelters consist mostly of dogs and cats, usually strays or surrendered animals that are being housed until they find a forever home. Your duties as an animal shelter volunteer could include socializing animals, taking animals out for walks, cleaning cages, and more. Many animal shelters continuously and actively seek volunteers, so reach out to your local shelter today.
- Volunteer at an animal sanctuary. If you want to get experience with more than just domestic cats and dogs, there are plenty of sanctuaries for large animals. For example, Goats of Anarchy in Hampton, New Jersey provides care for disabled goats in addition to housing pigs, sheep, chickens, and more. Animal sanctuaries exist all over the country, so if you aren’t able to leave your home state, do some research to see what options exist near you.
- Shadow a veterinarian. By shadowing a vet, you will get first-hand experience with medical procedures that animals undergo. If you put enough time in and show that you are willing to take responsibility, you might even be able to help out! Reach out to animal hospitals in your area to inquire about shadowing.
- Work at a pet store, aquarium, or zoo. A job at a pet store can give you access to all types of small animals, including fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, rats, lizards, snakes, cats, and dogs. A job at an aquarium can give you more in-depth experience with fish than a pet store can, which is especially useful if you are considering a degree in marine biology. Finally, working at a zoo can help you learn about a variety of large exotic animals such as elephants, lions, penguins, and so many more.
- Work at a museum. Most natural history museums tend to have exhibits involving live animals. At some museums such as the Smithsonian in Washington DC, you can even work with insects, which can help you decide whether entomology is the right field for you.
If you are even remotely considering a career that involves working with animals, taking a gap year to work with animals can be valuable. It can help you decide whether this is the right path for you.
Gap Year Benefits
There are a variety of advantages to taking a gap year—and very few rules on how to approach it. What can you do with this time? We’ve already outlined some ideas, but those aren’t the only things to do with a gap year. This can be your chance to work and save money to help defray the costs of future college. You may want to experiment with an internship or gain new experiences and skills. This is also an opportunity to gain work experience that future employers may find valuable. Sometimes, a break from study is needed so that you’re refreshed when college starts up again.
Gap years can also be a chance to change the world. During gap years, students have been known to join organizations like the Peace Corps or Projects Abroad, which are both programs that may afford you the chance for international travel and experience to add to your future resume—as well as the opportunity to work on service projects that make an impact on lives, communities and the world.
Should I Take a Gap Year?
Taking a gap year is highly dependent on many factors. To name a few, your own outlook on continuing education, life, and personal expectations are all considerable points in whether you might choose to have a gap year or to enroll in gap year programs.
One consideration is your own feelings on the subject. Some students, as an example, may feel left behind or left out if all of their friends are going off to college while they take a gap year—and that may be a reason to skip it.
If you don’t have a plan for your gap year, that can be another reason to skip it. This is one of the dangers of the gap year. Without a plan—volunteering, internships, travel and holidays—gap years can turn into a sidetrack that prevent you from pursuing educational or career goals. It’s better to pursue gap years with a plan to gain new experiences or to accomplish something that will be useful later on than it is to let your gap year turn into several years of unfocused activity.
College entrance exams are another big factor in the decision-making process. Perhaps you’d like to bring SAT or ACT test scores up in order to be able to enter your choice of college. A gap year can really help by giving you time to refresh your knowledge, study for the exams, and be more prepared when you retake them. In addition to the exams, you can also focus on more volunteer experience or other enriching activities that can improve your odds of being accepted into your dream school.
Taking a break is totally fine for students, too. Quite a few people take gap years, either before or after undergraduate work, because they were burned out from studying and needed a recharge before delving back into studies or work. Just be aware that sometimes it can be harder to return to college life after a year-long hiatus from work or study. Plan for a productive gap year in order to get a breather and make the most of your time.
More recently, the uncertainty stemming from the pandemic has also been encouraging students to take gap years. This can be another reason to choose this route, simply to avoid the stress of trying to attend school in a safe and productive manner during shutdowns and pandemic-related restrictions.
Benefits of Hybrid Programs During Gap Years
Hybrid programs are another option, one which offers greater flexibility compared to traditional programs while also retaining many of their perks. Hybrid programs can offer multiple start dates during an academic year, allowing students to enter at any point they choose. Each “period” will only involve students studying a particular course or two, which allows them to focus on each individual class better as opposed to having multiple sessions from different subjects crammed together. But these aren’t the only advantages. If you feel the need to take off for a term or two, you can do so freely without worries of reapplication.
Affordability is another asset of a hybrid program. With them, students often have much lower tuition costs compared to traditional methods of teaching, which makes these programs much more accessible for students who may not be able to afford more traditional routes. Also, living on campus is not required, giving you more options in terms of living quarters and their associated expenses. And with these programs, you can still qualify for financial aid so long as you’re taking enough courses to meet requirements.