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Gap years are becoming increasingly popular and with good reason: rather than jumping into academia or formal work life, gap years act as a pause button, giving many individuals the once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop, explore and learn in exciting new ways. From traveling the world to volunteering abroad or in your own backyard, gap years offer the unique opportunity to follow your bliss before buckling down in the real world.

 

What is a Gap Year?

The traditional gap year takes place immediately after high school and before college, giving students who have been on a non-stop academic track for the majority of their lives the chance to reflect on past experiences as well as what lies ahead. In recent years, the term Gap Year has expanded to include people who delay entering the workforce or take a break between jobs. In short, a gap year is any alternate path offering the unprecedented opportunity for freedom and self-expression.

 

See the World

One of the best ways to take advantage of your gap year is through travel. Gap years offer one of contemporary life's most sought after commodities: time. While traveling is a reward in itself, it also provides firsthand educational opportunities. From acquiring new language skills to gaining a new found understanding of a different culture; you will finish the year with an enriched perspective of the world around you. Time abroad also makes applicants more desirable candidates to admissions offices and hiring committees, both of which value community members with well-rounded viewpoints.

 

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While traveling during your gap year you may discover a new view -- both literal and metaphorical.

 

Make the World Better

There are a multitude of ways to enjoy your gap year while making a contribution to the world around you. Whether you help with a political campaign within your own community or volunteer abroad in support of educational, health care or environmental initiatives, volunteering offers the chance to make a difference. An added benefit? The skills you learn while volunteering easily transition to academic and work life, and also look great on an application or resume.

 

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In helping others get what they need, you just might get something you need, too.

 

While volunteering may initially seem like a financial impossibility, it's really not. With proper planning and preparations -- such as taking advantage of money management tips for recent college grads -- you can establish a budget for the year ahead.

 

Ultimately, a gap year doesn't just represent the chance for a break from your academic or work life; it also offers immediate academic, professional and personal enrichment opportunities, as well as the chance to reassess your goals in these areas. Don't waste this invaluable time hanging out in your parents' basement; instead, commit to making the most of your gap year in a meaningful way.

 

Image Courtesy of khunaspix/FreeDigitalPhotos.net and George Stojkovic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Joanna Hughes writes on all subjects, from style and fashion to travel and higher education.

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