What to do During a Gap Year

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

I really don’t understand why more people — if not everybody — don’t take a gap year before college. The way I see it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain in doing so.

A gap year has both psychological and financial benefits. In the former sense it fights burnout, provides time for maturation, and uncovers your passions. In the latter sense it can be profitable and even deter you from blindly taking on a life of debt. Take it from me; I’m in my third gap year with no intention of ever going to college just to squander my financial advantage.

Alas, the average high school student has bigger concerns than their future economic stability and happiness. It’s hard enough to fight the analysis paralysis from all the possible schools and majors (let alone the possible gap year ideas and careers) and many students don’t want to miss out on the college experience.

If you’re one of those people who needs a little help sifting through all your options, here are some ideas for you:

Category #1: Making money

It’s no secret that the best investment strategy is an early one; depending on how much you invest and at what return rate, you could earn double the returns by investing at 20 as by investing at 30.

Let’s say you take a gap year and earn “x” amount of money. Let’s also say that you live with mom and dad during that time and invest 100% of “x” income at a 6% return rate. Then, after the gap year, you go to college and don’t touch the money you invested for four years. During those four years, without lifting a finger, you would passively earn 26% of your original invested income.

Not to mention, investing becomes much harder after college when you suddenly have living expenses and a $300/month student loan bill. It behooves you to start while you can, and you might find that earning money is much more enjoyable when you don’t have the financial pressures of adulthood.

Monetize your creative hobby

If you like to write, code, bake, paint, knit, sing, film, etc., a gap year would be the perfect opportunity for you to dedicate more time to your hobby- and make money from it!

You’ll never find a better opportunity to write a book, build an app, or record an album. A gap year will give you nothing but time and a safe space for trial and error; you’ll never regret trying, and college will be there next year should things not work out.

Start a business

While similar to monetizing your hobby, you could spend your gap year selling your services or resources. This might range from teaching a class (like martial arts, dance, SAT prep, etc.) to becoming a local guide, to managing an AirBnB, to personal training, to retail arbitrage, to rideshare and delivery work.

Even if worst comes to worst and your business isn’t as lucrative as you’d hoped, you’ll get some hands-on experience and acquire a bunch of real-world skills that you probably wouldn’t get in college. Nobody in their right mind would think you wasted your time by learning inventory management, bookkeeping, marketing, leadership, and resilience.

Learn a skill you can monetize in college

Having a job in college sucks. You miss out on a lot of the “college experience”, you may not be able to take as many classes or join as many groups, and your grades might suffer if your schedule is packed.

However, there are tons of side-hustle options that are more convenient for a full-time student (and are probably more enjoyable than most minimum wage jobs)! They just require a little prep-work, which a gap year can provide. For example, many students in college make money from a YouTube channel, by working as a copywriter or a loan broker, by blogging, or though other gig work.

Set up passive sources of income

Let’s say you don’t want to work during college, you don’t really want to monetize your skills, and you already have some cash to start. You want to “work smarter, not harder”, so to speak.

A gap year would provide ample time to set up multiple laissez-faire passive revenue sources. You could, for example, invest in the stock market, in real estate, in crypto, or in small businesses. Of course you’ll want to be well-informed on the nature of these investments before you throw your money into them, and a gap year will allow you to course correct before you take your hands off the wheel in college.

Not interested in investing but still want to set up passive revenue sources? Consider dropshipping, affiliate marketing, or loaning money (to your broke peers accruing college debt, might I suggest?).

Category #2: Traveling

The older you get, the more difficult it becomes to explore the world. Not only do you become tethered by your financial responsibilities, you also get too old for long plane rides and slummy lodging. A gap year would give you the opportunity to see as many places as you’d like, or to immerse yourself deeply in just one culture. Here are some ways to do both:

Au-pair

If you’re looking for an immersive experience abroad, consider becoming an au-pair. An au-pair is basically a live-in nanny, and most international families are seeking a native-English speaker to help teach their kids. There are tons of countries to choose from, and many websites to help connect you with families.

Farm working

As another option for an international immersive experience, consider working on a farm. It’s more manual labor than nannying, but your responsibilities can range from harvesting to tending livestock to learning about sustainability.

Backpacking

Want to visit a bunch of different countries as a broke high school grad? Backpacking is a cheap and fun way to make that happen, as long as you’re not afraid of hostels and public transportation. Europe is a popular destination for backpackers since it’s tourist-friendly and is highly concentrated, but southeast Asia is also a great place to start (and is often cheaper).

Travel Influencer

Using your medium of choice (blogging, social media, etc.) you could potentially make money from your international travels. Simply record your cool experiences and share them with your peers who are stuck in a stuffy lecture hall!

Immersive Language Programs

Not only are there a plethora of job postings for English teaching positions, you can also get sponsored to learn a foreign language. Usually these opportunities are reserved for current students or students who can confirm future enrollment, but it might beat farm work and nannying if that’s not your jam.

Category #3: Career Prep

Assuming your dream job isn’t to start a business (if so, just do it), a gap year would be a great opportunity to gain industry experience. Not only will this serve as a fabulous resume line for scholarships and future employers, it’ll also confirm whether or not you’re passionate about the major you plan on pursuing.

Intern

Pretty self-explanatory, but there are plenty of internship opportunities in every industry. Even if an internship is unpaid, you can reasonably expect to be compensated in recommendation letters, professional connections, and a sense of moral superiority.

Don’t see an internship opportunity for the job you want? Take the initiative and reach out yourself! Nobody will say “no” to free labor.

Volunteer

What’s the difference between internships and volunteering, you ask? Volunteer work generally tends to be more relaxed and has a lower barrier to entry, which is perfect if you don’t have any previous industry experience. Additionally, volunteering is more common than internships in public service and non-profit industries like social work and healthcare.

Do your own academic research

Who says you have to be in college to publish a research paper? If you’re particularly masochistic, consider taking a year off to investigate those weird bugs under your porch or to publish your musings on the relationship between religion and divorce rates. Just sayin’.

Category #4: Take time to be a kid

At the end of the day, a gap year should expand your horizons and give you room to breathe, not prematurely burden you with financial and existential woes. It’s just as important to fight academic burnout and enjoy your final years of youth, and it doesn’t have to cost anything.

Road trip

The U.S. is the third largest country in the world, and (assuming you live here) there’s plenty of domestic culture to explore. From Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans to Monowi, the regional differences are so rich that you don’t need a passport in order to leave home.

Summer camps

Of course you could work as a chaperone for your local summer and outdoor camps, but there are also adult-only camps like Space Camp, Camp No Counselors, and Adventure Camp where you can reconnect with nature, other campers, and your inner child.

Chill in your mom’s basement

Your mom is definitely going to hate me for this one, but I think it beats asking her to pay tens of thousands of dollars for your worthless degree that you’re not even sure you like.

Seriously, just take a year off.

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