The gap year used to be a common choice for high school graduates, especially baby boomers. The idea was to take a year between high school and college to travel, work, or otherwise get a taste of the real world before arriving on campus.
Since then, the gap year has largely died out in the mainstream – until now. In a survey conducted by Wakefield Research, nearly half of students who graduated in 2020 said their plans have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these, about a third say they will now delay entering college, and nearly a fifth have chosen to pursue a different career path.
While circumstances are not ideal, studies show that students who take a year off actually do better academic performance when they return to school. If you want to make the most of your gap year, here are a few options.
Get an internship or mentorship
While many companies are pausing internship programs this year, some may offer distant or socially distant opportunities.
Make a list of the industries you want to explore, such as: B. software, advertising or accounting. Then search LinkedIn to find these types of businesses in your area.
Click on the company and visit their website to find a hiring manager or person from the human resources department to contact. If this information isn't available on the internet, you can connect with someone directly on LinkedIn.
Send a quick note explaining who you are, what you are interested in, and what got you into this particular business. When you are able to email them, include a basic resume with your high school GPA, extracurricular activities, and other accomplishments. Try to personalize the message and demonstrate your understanding of the organization's activities.
With so many students looking for internships right now, you may need to contact dozens of companies before you're accepted. Do not despair. When I was looking for a job after the 2008 financial crash, I sent more than 100 applications before I finally got an offer.
Be persistent, follow up at least once after submitting an application, and send a thank you letter after each interview. If the internship hunt is particularly competitive, you have to be even more determined.
If you manage to get an internship, try building new relationships even if you work remotely. Building your professional network is one of the most important things you can do as an intern – even if you never meet your employees in person.
Develop creative projects and new skills
While trying to find an internship or job, you can use your downtime to start a project, improve existing skills, or learn something new. If you've always wanted to learn software, you can find free or inexpensive courses online. If you want to improve your Spanish, you can get in touch with a tutor on a website like italki.
If you're interested in graphic design, writing, or any other creative field, you can offer pro bono services for a local nonprofit to help build your online portfolio. Gather testimonials from your customers and ask them to validate your skills on LinkedIn.
Take community college courses
Just because you can't currently afford four year college doesn't mean you have to postpone your education. Instead, consider taking community college courses.
In 2018, the average cost of a credit hour at a two-year college was $ 135, compared to $ 325 for a four-year public college and $ 1,039 for a four-year private university.
Students who already know where they are studying should check that their community college classes are counting toward credit hours required. You don't want to waste your time and money taking courses that are non-transferrable.
This strategy works best when community college credits are awarded at a public university in the same state. If you are taking courses in California and applying to a four-year college in Colorado, your credit lessons may not be accepted.
Find a paid job
Finding paid work during your year abroad will be more difficult than in previous years, with millions of Americans currently unemployed. You should be willing to expand your search and accept low-paying chores such as mowing the lawn, cleaning gutters, or babysitting.
A badly paying job will still help you make money for college and pay for any expenses you have during the gap year. Each job will create your resume and show future employers that you are a responsible and hardworking candidate.
Look for job vacancies on sites like Indeed and LinkedIn. Post to neighborhood groups on Next Door and Facebook with your services and contact information. You'd be surprised how many people are looking for dog walkers or someone to do basic errands.
Side hikes like delivering for Instacart and Uber Eats are still plentiful. If you choose any of these options, keep an eye on expenses like gasoline and car repairs as they can be deducted from your taxes at year end.
Make a list of all of your skills, talents, and hobbies and brainstorming opportunities to monetize them. If you are a talented graphic designer, publish your services on Fiverr. If you are an excellent guitarist, offer music lessons to children in your area.
Do your research and apply for additional scholarships
If you are certain that college is still in your future, use this time to research and apply for additional scholarships and grants. Work on your essays and collect testimonials from people you know well, like your high school baseball coach or your acting teacher.
You may not be able to apply for scholarships if you don't enroll in the fall, but you can bookmark them for later. For each scholarship you want to apply for, create a folder or google doc with a link to the requirements, deadlines, and other relevant information.
You can even write about this gap year experience for your essay. Keep an ongoing log of what you are achieving, what you are learning, and how you have grown over the year.
Zina Kumok (101 posts)
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance. As a former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four, and everything in between. It has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth, and Time. Read how she repaid $ 28,000 in student loans at Conscious Coins in three years.