Planning the Perfect Gap Year – Part 1

At last! The day for you to submit your final examination paper arrives. The years of piling on honors and extra classes, tutors, test preparations, community-service projects, and other extracurricular activities are now going to be behind you. While on one hand your classmates are preparing to crack the college admissions, you on the other hand have decided to take a year off. Bravo!

A million questions must be swirling in your head at this very moment. “What do I do during a gap year?”, “How do I fund it?”, “Where can I stay?” and so on. While planning a gap year might seem like a daunting process, we are here to tell you that it really isn’t that difficult! Given below is a checklist we have created in order to help you plan your perfect gap year. If you can tick all the points, then you are ready to go!

1) WHY DO I NEED TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

There have been many cases where students at the end of their gap year simply find that they didn’t get the experience they were hoping for. Not having clarity about “Why do they need to take a gap year and what do they hope to achieve?”, is one of the chief reasons.

While a gap year is about recharging your batteries, it is also an opportunity to learn and grow in ways that will prepare you for a meaningful and fulfilling life. According to Ethan Knight, executive director of American Gap Association, “ A student might not be a good fit if he or she doesn’t have a clear plan of learning or enrichment activities during the time off, or doesn’t feel that they are academically burnt out and are looking forward to classes.” Therefore for a gap year to benefit, it is very important for you to have a clear understanding of what is driving you to take a year off as this will help you set realistic goals.

Determining the right gap year plan starts with identifying and introspecting on some burning questions that matter. Below is a list of some important questions we strongly recommend you to ponder over.

a) Why do I need to take a year off?

b) Will it benefit me in anyway?

c) In what ways do I need to learn and grow to take full advantage of college or work place?

d) What types of experiences and support will help ensure this growth?

Asking such questions will not only help you narrow down your needs and interests, but also give you a clarity on whether a gap year is the best fit for you or not.

2) WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF MY GAP YEAR PLANS?

Once you have a better understanding of your needs, interests and the goals you have set for yourself, it is absolutely essential to create a structured plan around them. The first step towards creating a plan of action is to identify the type of gap year you’re most inclined to. Broadly speaking, there are 4 types of gap years: –

A) WORKING GAP YEAR

A gap year is a good time to get a foot on the ladder of your future career path. Depending on what industry or sector you wish to work in, there are well established internship programs and jobs that can give you a taste of working in that sector.

While you might groan at the thought of working during a gap year, but there are many advantages that will make you see a working gap year in a different light. Not only does it help you discern exactly what types of work you would and wouldn’t like, but often it can expose you to a whole range of career options you never even knew existed. In addition to that, it also helps you earn some money, gain skills and experience and build up a network of contacts. If you choose to combine a working gap year with some travel, you’ll get to experience working in different locations, often in multicultural teams and using language skills, giving you a deeper insight into the local culture than you’d get when simply travelling through.

Also, having a productively spent gap year on your personal statement or CV can be a great way of distinguishing yourself from the crowd, as long as you can show what you gained from the time.

Does it sound convincing enough?

B) VOLUNTEERING GAP YEAR

Spending the year volunteering is one of the best ways in which you give back to the society. It helps increase your sense of community, give cultural exposure, make new friends and help you build a network of contacts which may later lead to an offer of a permanent job!

Volunteering roles are available in registered charities, foreign-aid projects, not for-profit organizations, governments, and other organizations. Typical roles include administration, finance, fundraising, event organizing, care work and many more.

If you want to volunteer and travel places, there are lots of international volunteering placement schemes which offer short placements (from a week up to a year) across a range of career sectors. This way you can help around the world with all kinds of initiatives. All you’ll need to do is some research and you’ll be all set!

A) TRAVELLING GAP YEAR

Whether it be the mystics of the far-east, the exotics of southeast Asia, the thrills of Australia, the culture of Latin America, the fun of North America or the history of Europe that calls you there are loads of great things to see and do in every corner of the world.

Students either travel around the world or locally during a gap year. This can be very rewarding as it helps them to unwind, teaches them to be independent, soak up rich cultures and broaden their horizons, widen their social and professional circle, and if lucky helps secure permanent jobs too!

So, are you ready to travel the world?

B) STUDYING GAP YEAR

Imagine being able to study what you desire without the pressure of tests and assignment deadlines hanging over your head. What if you could learn in a brand new environment which doesn’t even remotely resemble the four walls of a classroom? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Studying during a gap year will allow you to take a year out before university or work while still continuing to further your education. Today, many colleges and training centers offer courses suitable for gap year students which help develop key skills such as office, IT and business skills, or gain extra skills and knowledge in fields such as languages, art, music, drama, sports or conservation.

There are several options for studying abroad or in a different location to where you are usually based. You can take a short-term summer program, or apply for a position in an exchange program that specializes in study opportunities abroad and so much more!
Now that you have identified which type of gap year you belong to it is important for you to:

i) Select the places where you’d like to spend your gap year, and

ii) Figure out how much time is available on your hands.

Narrowing down the places will depend on a number of factors such as, accessibility, safety, whether the place caters to your learning needs and so on. As for the duration of your gap year, that will depend on what your learning needs are, how long can you finance your gap year etc.

3) HOW DO I FUND MY GAP YEAR?

It is no secret that funding a gap year can take a toll on your parent’s bank accounts as it includes many costs. These include travel costs, living expenses, visas/work permits, driving permits, insurance, internet and mobile phone costs and health expenses!
This was probably the biggest reason why it took your parents some time to wrap their heads around the idea of a gap year!

While planning how to raise funds is a crucial step and a laborious process, it is not unattainable. Once you have figured out your final costing, you can right away start raising funds!

Given below are some ideas which will help you in that process and turn your gap year into a reality.

a) Work before you go.

b) Work during the gap year; either in one place or while travelling.

c) Fundraise through sponsored events and activities.

d) Ask your family and friends to donate. Perhaps instead of birthday gifts you could ask them to donate or pay for completing the chores.

e) Sell some of your unwanted items online.

f) Apply for a grant or a loan from government/federal funding bodies, charities and grant-making trusts.

While these can be carried out anywhere around the world, there are some Universities in United States, like Princeton,  and Tufts University  that have begun to subsidize gap years for incoming students. Also, there are a number of low costing programs such as AmeriCorps,  City Year  or WWOOF-USA  which pay for room and food arrangements.
If until now you’ve been able to satisfactorily tick every point off this checklist, then there is just one last and final thing for you to do. Touch base with your potential contacts living in the areas you are about to visit or work, arrange your stay and book the travel tickets in advance. This way you will not leave anything for the last-minute and won’t get hassled when the day finally arrives!

We understand that it is not just the pressure of planning a gap year that can be tough. Convincing your parents and yourself is a major part of the process. We hope that once you are able to cross that milestone, this blog will help you in planning your gap year to the very last detail.

 

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