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Part II: Gap years are becoming more and more popular. But they are getting good press, and bad pressWhen done right, there is no question that taking a gap year will have numerous benefits.

Here are 8 tips to make your gap year exceptionally productive. (Part I is here.)

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5. Pursue one (or more than one) potential career.

One reason many people take gap years is because they don’t know exactly what they want to study. This doesn’t mean they don’t have interests, but they may not be able to decide on just one major.

If you are considering a few different areas of study, try them all during your gap year. You may find you hate engineering, are bad at coding, but really enjoy marine biology.

Pursuing your fields of interest may help focus you for college, so be sure to structure your gap year in a way that you can try multiple things, check some off your list, and enter college with a good idea of what you want to study.

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6. At least plan the first few months.

Starting a gap year is a stressful process. You are leaving your friends and family to do something that is not normal. This will be a lot less stressful if you at least know what you’re about to go do. After all, you have a limited time with just one year. You want to make it count. Still, you don’t want to over-plan your gap year to the point that you have no room for flexibility. Plan at least the first three months so that you have a reason to walk out the door and start your adventure.

Within the first month, you will get into a rhythm and have confidence in what you’re doing. Once you’re well into your gap year, you may be confronted with other exciting opportunities. You might meet someone who owns a ranch, and has invited you to come work with them. You might make some friends who want you to join them on their trek along the Inca Trail.

If you have committed to one twelve-month project, you have removed your ability to be flexible and say, “yes” to serendipity. A good way to solve this problem is to either commit yourself to a few months in the beginning, or to find a program that offers a full range of experiences.

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7. Stop worrying about your peers.

You are about to accomplish more than they will in their freshman year. If you think about them while on your gap year, you will slow yourself down.

You are taking a gap year because you want to take a leap and do something big. Do NOT spend this time looking to what everyone else is doing.

If you are looking for guidance before embarking on your gap year, talk to someone who has taken a gap year – not someone who has had the same experiences as you, and who is choosing to go straight to college. If it helps, please feel free to get in touch with me at ben@winterline.com. I love talking about this stuff.

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8. Be prepared to learn (don’t be prepared to teach).

Many people spend their gap years teaching at a school in another country (myself included), which is awesome, but you’ll likely learn at least as much from the experience as your students do.

Your students will teach you about life in their hometown and in their country. Be a sponge. This is your year to soak everything up that you can. You are not yet halfway to the average human life expectancy, which means the average person you’ll encounter on your gap year is older than you, and has more life experience than you.

You have more to absorb than you do to share. This is not meant as an insult, but as a motivator. This is exciting! You have so much unfinished business. So defer for a year, and go do it all.