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What is a gap year? And should grads take one?

Members of the class of 2020 have many decisions to make in the coming months.

Many high school students enroll in trade schools or colleges after graduation, while college graduates start their careers or begin their pursuit of advanced degrees when their undergrad days draw to a close. But more and more high school and college graduates are taking gap years.

According to the American Gap Year Association, a gap year is defined as an experimental semester or full academic year taken between high school and college grads in order to deepen practical, professional and personal awareness. Students often take a break from school as a chance to travel or gain some professional experience. Others use gap years as a chance for personal exploration before moving on to the next chapter in their lives.

Gap years may once have been looked at unfavorably, but they have evolved from such perceptions into opportunities to volunteer abroad, learn a new language in a foreign land, visit one’s ancestral homeland, or work as an intern.

While many students take gap years prior to entering college, even college graduates can benefit from taking time off after earning their degrees.

Gap years are now seen as a way to improve a curriculum vitae and gain relevant work experience in a particular field. The resource GapYear.com indicates employers actively employ people who have taken a gap year, prefering candidates who have real-world experience.

Preparation is necessary before diving head first into a gap year. Students can speak with people who have already taken gap years and ask questions. Graduates should approach the decision of whether or not take a gap year just as they would any other large, life-changing decision. Experts say that it can take between nine and 12 months to plan a gap-year itinerary. Finances are a consideration, and gap years require ample savings and a carefully constructed budget in order to be transformed from a dream into a reality.

Gap years are a growing trend that can help students improve their resumes, see the world and gain invaluable experience.