Should You Take a Gap Year Before Online College?

Should You Take a Gap Year Before Online College?

So you’re planning to enroll in online college, but you’re considering taking a gap year first? Great idea! A gap year can actually be extremely beneficial, especially for online students.

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Let’s face it, the last few years of high school did not go exactly the way you pictured it. Thanks to the global pandemic, many of you were forced to wrap up your high school education in online classes. So even if you plan to continue your online studies in college, unplugging for a year could pay dividends in the long run.

In fact, in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic, more students than ever before have used the year after high school graduation to step back, regroup, and pursue a few experiences outside of the (virtual) classroom.

A gap year also gives you a little more time to shop around for an excellent online college experience. Whatever you do in your gap year, make sure some of your time is spent researching online schools. Get started with a look at the Best Online Colleges in 2022.

Or read on to find out how you can make the most of your gap year.

What Is a Gap Year?

The gap year is an academic break between secondary and post-secondary school. Students graduating from high school often use this time to pursue interesting opportunities or new experiences before embarking on a college education. Gap year experiences may include but are not limited to:

  • Work
  • Travel
  • Specialized research
  • Internships
  • Advanced study in math, science or the arts
  • Volunteering
  • Learning a New Language

You may design an independent gap year experience on your own or you may choose to participate in a more structured experience through a gap year organization.

You have plenty of freedom to use this time as you see fit. But you should also understand that “gap year” is not just a clever way of saying vacation. You can visit exotic beaches if you would like. You can check some cool experiences off of your bucket list. But technically, this is not a vacation. In order to call it a gap year:

  • You must have an actual plan for how to constructively spend your time away from school, and;
  • You must plan on returning to school following this year-long hiatus.

Worried about losing your academic motivation during your year off? Fear not. The Gap Year Association reports that 90% of students who take a gap year actually do enroll in college within the year.

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Why Take a Gap Year?

The best reason to take a gap year is to gain some perspective before taking the next step in your education. You have spent your entire life in school. Taking a year off can be a great way to clear your head and get a stronger sense of your own goals. Research from the Gap Year Association reveals that students who begin college following a gap year routinely demonstrate greater maturity, growth, and preparedness for college than those who dive into college just months after high school graduation.

The Gap Year Association surveyed students who have taken advantage of the gap year. The three biggest benefits of the gap year, according to surveyed students, were that it:

  • gave me a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me;
  • gave me a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living; and
  • provided me with additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major.

These responses speak to the tremendous value of getting experiences outside of a formal educational setting. Once you do return to pursue your degree, you will be a slightly wiser and worldlier version of yourself.

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Why Take a Gap Tear Before Going to Online College?

The best reason to take a gap year before going to online college is because it can provide you with some of the interpersonal experiences you may not have as an online student. While online education offers a number of clear benefits including accessibility, affordability, and flexibility, there is no way to replace the dynamic interaction you get in a live classroom. There is also no way to replicate the social experience of living on campus.

This makes the gap year a great option for students who will be earning a degree entirely online. Whether you choose to travel and engage with locals; participate in a volunteer mission where you experience communal living; or work as a counselor in a youth athletics program, your gap year can be an excellent way to meet new people, have a diverse set of social experiences, and even have a little fun.

Having a few of these experiences in the year after high school graduation can help offset some of the isolation you might feel as an online student.

Have you been waitlisted for online college? We share some actionable steps for you to take right now.

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What Are Some Top Organized Gap Year Programs?

The Gap Year Association is an organization focused on advancing and encouraging constructive use of the gap year. The 501(c)3 nonprofit association is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the organization which sets standards and grants accreditation for formal gap year programs.

According to the Gap Year Association, we have seen their profound benefits on students from all backgrounds, and believe an intentional gap year can be part of the welfare for us, our nation, our neighbors, and our fellow global citizens.

If you are seeking out a structured gap year program, the Gap Year Association could be a great starting point. The Association identifies gap programs that have been evaluated for their quality and legitimacy. This includes opportunities for internships, volunteering, travel, and a host of other life experiences. Any programs listed in this index have been verified by the Gap Year Association. Notable accredited programs include:

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Can I Use the Gap Year to Advance My Career?

One of the best ways to use your gap year is to get some real-world experience in an industry that you are actively considering for a career. For instance, if you plan to major in political science, try getting a job for a local campaign. Thinking of a career in public service? Drop into city hall and ask if there is an office where you can apply to work. Interested in a hospitality career? Hotels and cruise-ships are always hiring support staff.

Remember, you are entry-level right now. But an entry-level job in a field of your choice is an amazing way to see what life is like on the inside. And while you are on the inside, make sure to network. Build contacts, ask questions, learn everything you can about a career in the field. That knowledge will give you a huge advantage as you prepare to declare your college major down the road.

Not only that, but there are actually some schools and degree programs that award college credit for work experience.

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How Can a Gap Year Help My Mental Health?

If you are about to graduate high school and you feel like you have only seen the world through a screen, your gap year could be a great way to get out there and see the real thing. Go for a cross-country drive. Participate in an organized program abroad. Pick a destination based on your intended career, family background, or personal interest.

If money is an issue, pick destinations where you have friends or family. No matter where you go, as long as you keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open, you will learn and grow. You will experience new things. You will taste new things. You will see things that will change your perspective.

These are all experiences that you can take with you into online college. These experiences will also better prepare you for some of the distinct responsibilities that come with online education. Without the traditional oversight that occurs in a live classroom, it is up to you to manage your own time, find your own motivation, and organize your own responsibilities. Students who experience a gap year are often better prepared for the realities of personal independence that come with online learning.

Better preparation, organization, and discipline can help you preempt some of the pressures unique to online education. Still, if you do find that you are struggling with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, take advantage of the mental health support resources offered through your online program. Just as is the case for students living on campus, it is extremely important that you do not neglect your mental health while getting your online education.

Once you are ready to start college, prepare yourself with a look at these 10 Tips for Online Education Beginners.

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