High school is over, or the end is in sight. You’ve signed yearbooks and finished your finals and now take a look at the future. Are you unsure of what you want to do with your life? Does the idea of jumping into college feel overwhelming? Not sure what major to choose? Never lived away from home? Maybe you wonder if you are even cut out for college. All of those questions and feelings are normal. You may be surprised to know that many people are in the same boat, and one popular option for figuring out what you want is taking a gap year.

Gap year? What’s that?

A gap year is different for everyone who takes one. The gap year definition depends on your interests and needs. For some people, a gap year might be moving out of their parents home and working for a year before starting college. It can be a great way to gain independence without losing your support system. Learning to pay bills, get along with roommates, cook, and hold a job are valuable skills.

Many college graduates also take a gap year before joining the professional workforce. Choosing a major at 18 or 19 years old can be complicated. Even playing to our strengths, we can sometimes choose wrong. After completing a course of study, some people may not be sure what career they want to pursue. Taking a year to travel or volunteer can help clarify what you want to do with your life.

Many organizations can help add structure to your gap year and provide the money needed to fund it. AmeriCorps is a great option in the United States. You can spend a year helping out in a community.

There are also options for conservation work and even travel overseas. Teaching English in foreign countries can be a great way to travel and earn money needed to live there.

Why take a gap year, what’s in it for me?

In addition to travel and new experiences, a gap year can help you be more prepared to tackle school or a job. According to Wikipedia, people who take a gap year return more mature and more able to handle the challenges of university. Living abroad and experiencing a different culture can inspire you to pursue an international career or learn a new language. Working in a community doing service for a year, can open your eyes to needs you may not have considered before.

Interacting with people who are different from you can be great preparation for college. Most students at university will be required to work with someone who may have different values and beliefs. Spending a year exploring the world and meeting people can prepare you for more serious encounters at college or professionally.

Gap year programs sometimes offer college credit. Find a gap year program that relates to your planned major. Take that field of study on a test drive without committing to 4 years. See if it is something you love doing. This can save you a lot of time and money because you can hone in on what you do or don’t love to do. You may even discover a strength you didn’t realize you had.

Any gap year experience will be a great addition to a college application or work resume. You will stand out in a crowd if you spent a year volunteering or living in another country. The benefits of a gap year follow you throughout your life. Not only with they help you succeed in college or a job, but they will also be memories you cherish for a lifetime.