Up to 40% of students in 2020 are seriously considering a “gap year”, an extra year off between high school and college. There are many reasons one may choose this route, such as time to earn money for college, acquire new skills, or narrow down one’s career options. Once you’ve come close to wrapping up your time off, you may wonder—now what? Uncover your next best steps after your gap year with these helpful tips and tricks.
Step One: Check In On Your Finances
For many, the gap year presents a chance to shore up one’s finances and help fund college without relying solely on student loans. In other cases, a gap year can be a pricey one. This time in your life presents a unique opportunity to pursue interests without being tied down by work or other obligations.
When you’re nearing the end of your gap year, you’ll want to review your finances. First, list your income and expenses to get an idea of how much your gap year cost (or earned). How much do you have in your savings account? Do you have any other assets that can be easily liquidated?
Once you have a good idea of your current asset level, evaluate your goals for the future. Do today’s finances align with these goals? If not, what changes should be made before you proceed?
If you’re planning to attend a four-year state university, you will want to review your scholarship and grant opportunities, family contributions, and other potential sources of income. This will give you a better idea of how much you’ll need to pay for college. You’ll then be able to decide whether you’d like to offset this cost by taking out student loans, working a part- or full-time job while in school, or taking a second gap year to work full-time.
Step Two: Take Time to Reflect
After you’ve gotten your finances in order, you may want to look back and reflect on the lessons learned during your gap year.
- Did you uncover a brand new passion?
- Was taking a gap year worth it—would you do it again?
- If you were to start your gap year over, what things would you change?
- What skills did you learn during your gap year that you’d like to implement?
- Is there anything you wish you’d learned more about during your gap year, but didn’t?
- What advice would you give someone else who is thinking of taking a gap year?
By thinking about these questions, you’ll be able to put your gap year into context and apply your findings into your future plans.
Step Three: Discover What’s Next
Whether your future plans involve going back to school, joining the workforce, committing to a training or certification program, starting your own business, or something else, it’s important to jump into them with a clear head and well-defined goals.
Long Term vs. Short Term Goals
There’s no need to stress about not having your life completely mapped out. As your gap year showed you, there are plenty of paths to success—and many may seem unconventional.
If you’re not yet sure about your long-term goals, instead focus on some short-term goals that will improve your future position. These include learning a marketable skill, working to save money, or networking with others. In some cases, you may even decide that a second gap year is in order.
Look for Mentors and Networking Opportunities
Finding someone on your side who can provide advice and guidance on the specific issues you’re facing can be invaluable, especially if you’re trying to get back into the swing of things. Mentors can be found anywhere—at a job, a volunteer opportunity, or professional networking events. College professors and advisors can be mentors, as can family friends or members of your community.
Your mentor should be someone you can trust, and someone who has been shown to have your best interests in mind. Mentoring isn’t just a one-way street—mentees can provide their mentors with a fresh perspective on many issues that may come up over the course of the relationship.
Does Going Back to School Mean Student Loans?
With the cost of higher education increasing by nearly 25 percent over the last decade, the question on every prospective student’s mind can be: If I go back to school, will I need student loans?
Although the answer is often yes, there are many different loan options available. This blog post provides some more in-depth information on the student loans and other financial aid options that are available after you’ve taken a gap year.
A gap year can provide a multitude of benefits for those who wish for a temporal break between high school and their future lives. Regardless of how you’ve spent your gap year, it’s important to take stock of what you’ve learned. By setting broad goals and plans to achieve them, you’ll be able to forge ahead with maturity even in the most uncertain of times.