Malia Obama, oldest daughter of President Barack Obama, is in her senior year of high school, and she has been accepted to attend Harvard University as her college of choice. However, before the first daughter attends her very first college class, she will be taking a year off—otherwise known as a “gap year.”

Big in Europe and Australia, and just now catching on in the US, a gap year is when students decide to delay their entry to college to either catch their breath after high school, or to gather some life or work experiences before embarking on their college career.

For Malia, the decision to take a gap year makes sense. Her father is in his last year of presidency, and there will be a lot of changes as the family adjusts to life after the White House. So, it doesn’t really seem like a big surprise that she isn’t jumping right into college after she graduates from high school.

For me, however, a gap year was not my parents’ favorite decision that I made. I wanted to move out with my boyfriend and begin working full-time right away. They wanted me to go away to college and pursue the classes I needed toward the writing or teaching career I had often talked about.

In the end, I won out. I moved out the day after high school, increased my hours at work, and gained some real life experience. A year later,  I still wasn’t going to college. More than that, we were broke and had accidentally started a family.


My education took an alternative turn from the traditional route of college. I was lucky in that my experiences still led me to where I wanted to be in life. But because of the hardships I also faced from this life decision, I don’t heartily recommend taking a gap year.

Proud mom note: My daughter—the one we started our family with—is graduating from high school this year (and starting classes at Sonoma State University in the fall).

With all that said, however, I still recognize that there are many students who are disciplined enough to take a year off after high school and still sign up for college courses a year later. If that is your choice (or your child’s choice), here are 10 things you can do in that break between high school and college.

1. Travel
Trust me when I say this, there will never be a more perfect time for you to journey someplace new and live out of a suitcase. Later on, you will have a career, a family, obligations, responsibilities…. There will be so many things that will chain you where you are, making it difficult to just get up and go. So take advantage of the moment. Embark on a road trip to a new state. Or grab your passport and get on a plane. Peruse Groupon or Travelocity for deals, or split the tab with a few good friends.

2. Get a job….and save!
Work experience is worth its weight in gold. Future employers want to know about your past jobs, and they want to know you’ll be a good employee. This is a great time to pad your resume with a few small-time jobs, and even work your way up the ladder. Plus, a portion of that money can go toward next year’s college tuition, saving you money in the long run.

3. Join the Peace Corps
This is an opportunity for you to do something great for mankind, and to also see the world in the least expensive way possible. There is an application process and a few requirements involved, but if you’re approved, you will find yourself in a new part of the world, making new friends, and aiding others who are relying on your help.

4. Cross a few things off your bucket list
I know you have one. Perhaps it’s seeing the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s running a marathon. Whatever it is, this is a great time for you to create a few memories, do all the things you’ve always wanted to do, and give you a few new stories you’ll tell your grandkids one day.

hiking5. Hike the PCT.
You know, like Cheryl Strayed did (and told about in her memoir, “Wild”). Or just do a week-long backpacking trip like my friend, Inga Aksamit, did (and told about in her own memoir, “Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail“).  Make sure you have a pair of sturdy shoes!

6. Learn something new
Take a sail-boating class. Learn how to bone a fish. Discover how tie every knot there is. Learn how to sew your own outfit, or how to knit a scarf. Practice putting up a tent on your own, and then how to tear it down. Take a dance class, a yoga class, a jujitsu class, or a singing class. Learn how to ride a horse. Learn how to do a back flip. Learn to speak a new language. Take all the fun classes you can now. The possibilities are endless.

7. Write a book
You know you have one in you. Might as well use this time to jot it down. Who knows? It could become the next bestseller.

baking8. Learn some life skills
You know good ol’ Mom and Dad? They actually have a few tricks up their sleeve. They can balance a checkbook in the blink of an eye. They can whip up a meal for five in 30 minutes. They can change the oil on the car, or switch out the windshield wipers. They can budget their finances with a few bucks leftover. Use this next year to learn everything you can from these wise people you call parents about how to be truly independent.

9. Do nice things for others
If you love animals, the local animal shelter would probably appreciate your help. Enjoy farm work? See if any of the local farms need a hand. Have a neighbor with an overgrown lawn? Grab your dad’s lawnmower and mow their lawn. During this next year, look for ways you can add brightness to someone else’s life through random gestures of kindness.

10. Gain some perspective
What are your goals in life? What do you wish to accomplish by the time you’re 25, 30, 40 and more? What kind of career will make you happy? What are the values you wish to always take with you, and what are the bad habits you hope to shed? Use this next year to become clear on what you wish for your life, and to start mapping out your plan to make that happen!

What would you add to a gap year list? Did you take a gap year? What was your experience like?

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