Students can explore careers, travel, or save money for higher education during a gap year, which typically lasts 12 months. Proponents say teens who use the break to broaden their horizons are better prepared and more focused once they arrive at college.

A growing number of colleges actively encourage admitted students to take a gap year—as long the time is spent in a meaningful way.

Jeffrey Selingo, author of There is Life After College, says students are most successful when they use their gap year to tackle something new.

“For a gap year to have a significant impact on success in college, and later in the working world, it needs to be a transformative event, quite distinct from anything a student has experienced before—a meaningful work experience, academic preparation for college, or travel that opens up the horizon to the rest of the world,” Selingo wrote in his book. “It should also be designed to help students acquire the skills and attributes that colleges and employers are looking for: maturity, confidence, problem solving, communication skills, and independence.”

Explore Your Options

Students who take a gap year may decide to:

Travel: Many organizations offer programs that emphasize traveling or living abroad. Or, you may wish to plan your own adventure.

Complete an Internship: Spend some time working in a career field that interests you. If you enjoy it, you’ll have even more incentive to succeed in your chosen college major. If it’s not the field for you, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore other career opportunities.

Volunteer: You can find volunteer programs both in the US and all over the world. You could build houses, work with children, tackle environmental projects, or a host of other activities.

Focus on Academics: Students who are not pleased with their high school records might consider a postgraduate (PG) year. The goal for a PG year is to strengthen your academic record in the hope of gaining entry to a better college.

Work: Whether you find a job at home or away, a year of work can give you extra funds to pay for college, plus valuable, real-life experience.

What About College?

Once you’ve decided to take time off, it’s tempting to delay the whole college search until next year. But that’s not a good idea, for a number of reasons.

The college search and application process is much easier while you’re still in high school.

So go ahead and apply to colleges. Then contact the institution you plan to attend and ask that your admission be deferred for a semester or a year. Most colleges are very receptive to students who want time off for a gap year.