3 Things That Taking a Year Off From College Can Do For You

March 16, 2016

Getting into college isn’t easy, and believe it or not, colleges know that. They understand it takes four years of getting good grades, participating in clubs and yes, a combination of nailing the SATs and tedious college essays. That’s why a lot of private schools allow students to defer for one year to pursue their interests, blow off some steam, and have fun so that they can can return refreshed and ready to go for freshman year.

If you don’t believe me, just read the first paragraph of Harvard’s admissions page – they encourage every accepted student to explore deferring for a year. So, if you think you can convince your parents that deferring for a year, or simply taking a year off before applying to colleges is a good idea, what kind of epic things can you do with your time off? Here are three really good options that colleges love.

1. Personal and Professional Growth Programs

When schools like Harvard say they want you to defer, they sure don’t want you to sit on your mom’s couch all day. They want you to develop skills or a portfolio of work that make you an even better candidate than when you applied to the university. Personal and professional accelerators are about focusing on finding out more about yourself and building the skills you need to succeed on a professional level, while still encouraging you to explore the world and experience new things. They are also programs that parents tend to get on board for faster than traditional gap years.

The good programs can do a lot for you such as: giving you access to amazing internships, setting you up with mentors in numerous professional fields, sending you abroad to volunteer and learn languages, and maybe most importantly, teaching you the 21st century skills you need to be successful in the professional world.

There are plenty of programs out there including programs, like Dynamy’s, that offer internships, and Discover Praxis, which gives you the opportunity to learn remotely while participating in an internship. The UnCollege Gap Year provides a nice balance of what you might be looking for in a break from the traditional classroom – 3 months abroad, 3 months of 21st Century skill building workshops in San Francisco, and a 3-6 month internship in your area of interest. You really can’t go wrong, as they all offer something great.

2. Enroll in a Language Immersion Program

Sure, you’ve been enrolled in high school Spanish for four years, but are you fluent? Learning a second language is more than something you can list on your resume, it’s a skill that will give you lifelong value (that and it makes traveling so much more fun!). It’s also just something you should do to better understand your own community. I went to college near San Jose, California where 24% of all households spoke Spanish. That’s almost 250,000 people. It would have been useful to be fluent in Spanish when I arrived as a freshman. From the local mini mart employee to a handful of my professors, many of them considered Spanish their native language.

If you want to defer and learn a new language, be sure to research immersive language programs. These programs give you the opportunity to travel and experience a new culture and still leaving you with plenty of time to go sightseeing or anything else you want to do.

No matter what program you pick, make sure it has great relationships with the communities where it hosts its programs. I would also recommend that you avoid  an international metropolis as your destination (ex: everyone wants to study Spanish in Barcelona, but everyone in Barcelona can speak English, making it hard for you to focus on Spanish). Instead, choose a smaller town with a rich history or go off the beaten path to a cultural village.

3. Skill Bootcamps

These are for people that are pretty set on what they want to do – and that’s get into some hardcore tech. If this is you, spend an academic year building an app, learning Ruby, Java or whatever your computer science heart desires. No matter which way you go, you are picking up a skill employers (and universities) will love!

Hundreds of these options have popped up all over the world in the past few years. What you should look for is one that has an employment or internship guarantee or promises career support after completing the program. Most hard skill programs are incredibly niche. That said, companies like General Assembly offer a wide variety of opportunities in a number of US cities.

Overall, taking a gap year is a big decision, but it’s one that can lead to some great experiences and incredible forms of alternative learning. Applying to college is a huge process too, and we know exactly how that feels. Searching through essays, stats, and advice to find students like you can help you get into your dream school. Chat with current college students to get help and understand how you can get in.

About The Author

Chris Kelly
Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly is an education enthusiast who works with UnCollege in San Francisco. He is also a freelance writer in travel, sports, and the art of the spoken word.


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