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The Gap Year:
Taking a Year Off After Graduating From High School

Now that you are about to graduate from high school, your parents may be eager for you to begin making decisions about the future. They might be anxious about your plans for postsecondary education, a career, or both. Your teachers, case manager, friends, and relatives might all be asking about your plans for next year, but maybe you aren’t ready yet to make those decisions.

Instead of jumping right into the next phase of your life, you could take a gap year. A gap year is a great time to try different things and explore possibilities for your future. You could spend the year volunteering, take a class or two, or pursue a hobby. It's OK to wait a year before starting college or a career, and it may be right for you.

What are the benefits of a gap year?

A gap year is a time to explore new places, interests, and experiences, not just for education and work but for yourself. You might want to develop closer relationships with friends, or learn more about yourself as you gain experience with some of the responsibilities of adult life, such as paying bills, or renting an apartment. Here are some gap-year options:

What are you doing now?

Stay at your current job and learn new skills. If you have a part-time job now, there may be opportunities where you work to learn the skills you need to get promoted. You could polish your social and job skills, or learn more about what is expected of employees in work situations, such as handling conflict, treating others professionally, or improving your performance evaluations. As you learn new skills, there may be opportunities for more training or to earn more money to pay for your education.

Volunteer for an important cause. Volunteering is a great way to connect with others, take part in activities that could relate to a future career, and gain the satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference. You can also acquire more skills and knowledge that will help you prepare for a career.

Improve your academic skills with a refresher course. Once you have been out of high school for a few months, a refresher class can be helpful. From community education programs to YouTube videos to universities, free or low-cost courses are available if you want to continue learning. Choose courses that fit well with your learning style, whether that is a classroom setting, online course, or self-study.

Attend a program designed to give students a taste of a college. Often held in the summer, these programs will introduce you to the college experience and college-level skills for independent living, organization, and study skills. Check with colleges near you to see if they have such a program.

How can you plan for a gap year?

Determine your top priority for the year, define the action steps needed to achieve this goal, and consult an expert if you are unsure. Consider how long each step will take and put them on a calendar. There are lots of helpful planning tools available, including apps for your smart phone, tablet, or computer, or a simple paper calendar or planner. Track your goals and action steps along the way and before long you will be celebrating the progress you have made toward your highest priorities.


The decision to take a gap year is an individual choice based on your own needs, wants, and feelings. It is a time for reflection and personal enhancement, and a great opportunity to learn new skills, improve existing skills, and explore the world around you in different ways. Just as taking a deep breath helps to calm you, a gap year may help you feel calmer about your future.

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