It’s time to get excited and start setting goals!
So you’re taking a gap year in the fall. Maybe this is something that you knew you wanted to do for a long time, or maybe it’s a decision that you made recently after your previous plans fell through. No matter what sequence of events led to you making your decision, you’re currently committed to making the most of your gap year experience.
What steps can you take now to help you succeed during your gap year? Everyone’s experience is unique, and there’s no formula that will guarantee success. With that being said, there are some things you can do in the months leading up to the start of your gap year that will help increase the likelihood that your experience will be productive and enjoyable.
Setting goals for your gap year and establishing a list of things that you want to accomplish will allow you to take action in a more intentional way. Gap years are great opportunities for growth, but if you don’t have a specific idea of how you want to grow, you may find that this growth is uneven or inconsistent. A lot of people struggle with finding the right balance between keeping their options open so they can take advantage of opportunities that pop up unexpectedly and planning things in a meticulous manner so they have an action plan at any given point and can avoid unexpected surprises.
Like most things in life, the best path is somewhere in between these two extremes. If you have a clear sense of the skills you want to learn and the types of memories you want to form, you can hold yourself more accountable than if you leave things completely open-ended. If you take in information from your surroundings and refine your plans based on new information, you are able to adapt to the reality of the situations you find yourself in rather than sticking to a plan that is no longer a good fit.
Prepare, practice & be ready to tackle your challenges with a plan.
At Dynamy, students collaborate with advisors to create and refine plans over time. Some students know exactly what they want to accomplish before they start the program, and others know that they’re looking for a non-traditional experience but don’t have specific objectives in mind. Being part of a community where people intentionally seek out opportunities for growth and learning is one of the benefits of taking a gap year, and you can start benefitting before the official start of your gap year by reflecting on your goals and desired areas of growth.
Another step that you can take to prepare for your gap year is practicing skills that will prove helpful in the future. For example, if you’re looking to develop confidence in your ability to live independently, practicing cooking or doing laundry might make the initial transition a bit easier. If you’re interested in website design internships, learning basic coding may open up additional opportunities once you’ve secured an internship. Having a structured learning environment can certainly help you to acquire skills more quickly, but there are a lot of opportunities for you to expand your knowledge prior to entering into this environment. Ideally, the things that you’re practicing should tie in with the goals that you’ve set for your gap year.
One aspect of gap year preparation that shouldn’t be ignored is talking with parents about their expectations and setting up boundaries that work well for everyone. How often are you planning on calling home? Will you be completely financially independent during your gap year or is it reasonable to expect extra help? Will you move back home after your gap year is over or are you going to find your own apartment afterwards? Like your individual goals, the plans that you create with parents may change over time, but unnecessary stress can be avoided if everyone is on the same page prior to the start of your gap year.
A final step that you can take to prepare yourself is to familiarize yourself with your new community. If you can explore the neighborhood you’ll be staying in during your gap year, this will likely help you to feel more at home and to become more aware of opportunities available to you in your new community. If you can introduce yourself to peers and staff members, you can begin to form connections and find commonalities before you meet everyone in person. At Dynamy, we use a mobile messaging platform that students gain access to prior to our opening day, and advisors reach out to students in the middle of the summer to start building relationships months before opening day.
No matter how much you prepare, you will never be able to account for every contingency and will almost certainly find unexpected situations and surprises during your gap year. Some of these surprises may be very positive and some may be very difficult, but you would also have positive and difficult experiences even if you decided not to take a gap year. Venturing into the unknown can be a stressful experience, but if everything did go exactly according to plan, you would probably find your experience to be very boring.
Many of you are seeking a gap year because you’re burned out on traditional academic experiences, and the idea of creating a structured pre-gap plan is probably less than thrilling. What’s the best balance between taking some time off for self-care and being intentional in preparing for your gap year? I’m not sure if there’s a cut-and-dry answer for that. In general, I do believe that preparation pays off and that any effort you put into pre-gap preparation will be effort well-spent, but I also believe that there’s no substitution for lived experience and that you can never be perfectly prepared for anything. The best gap year programs allow you to build confidence in yourself and conviction in the decisions that you make, and the first step along that journey is checking in with yourself and figuring out what you need in order to succeed. Any work that you put in to do this now will pay off exponentially in the future.
Thinking about a gap year? Reach out to Dynamy today to see if a gap year is right for you!