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Not that long ago, many Americans had no choice but to work after high school. And as a result of their own experiences and struggles, they later pushed their children to transition directly into higher education. Now, high school graduates have another option on the table – a gap year.

While popular in the UK, other European countries and Australia, gap year has yet to catch hold in the United States. Part of this reason is the distance from Europe, where the idea as we know it now was born. In some cases, the experience is different and simply misunderstood. Americans who are unaccustomed to this phenomenon may be concerned that a gap year will lead to gallivanting and trouble-making. Some see it as leisure, vacation and a waste of time.

In reality, gap year describes a period, between 7-12 months, when a student takes a break from studies to travel internationally, work, volunteer, or engage in a combination of the three. This usually refers to the time after high school and before college, but can also be applied to students between college and graduate school, and college graduates needing a break before entering the workforce. While the idea of traveling alone in a different part of the world may be different, scary or seem like squandered time,  the experience gives rise to many personal rewards. Here are a few of the benefits gained from taking a gap year.

Young adults get a chance to expand their horizons.

A gap year will introduce you to unique people and cultures. It can be used as a tool for self-discovery through a path that is illuminated by a different light. Also, the connections formed may become part of a networking system later in life.

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Students become more marketable.

While taking time off of school to travel may seem frivolous to some, it shows maturity and sensibility to prospective organizations. In fact, many great universities acknowledge a gap year, including Harvard University. Many times, students pick up small jobs or volunteer opportunities while visiting other countries and hone skills that college admissions departments and future employers find valuable.

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It is a chance to be immersed in a new culture.

Diversity is beautiful, and plunging into another culture will open eyes and minds to sights and stimuli that may have never before been imagined. A gap year provides a way to become aware of, and, actively participate in a new way of life, and is also a good way to learn a second or third language, which may come in handy in future employment.

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Appreciation of college may increase after seeing the world.

Many students go to college unsure of what they should study, and sometimes they go to school for the wrong reasons. Taking a break and seeing the world provides a time for self-reflection. It can help answer questions like, “How will college help me to achieve my goals?” Gap year students may enter university with a fresh purpose that leads to greater focus, a dedicated work ethic and the desire to balance school with work to pay their way through, also cutting back on the need for loans.

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You’ll build problem-solving skills and become able to easily adapt to changes.

Surprises and unforeseen occurrences are likely to happen when traveling to and living in another country. These times may require in-the-moment, split decisions, which will help in learning how to solve problems quickly and effectively. Also, leaving one’s comfort zone teaches adaptability, a skill which can later help in college or career in various aspects (dorm life, thesis work, sharing office space, etc.).

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Experiencing a different lifestyle cultivates appreciation and willingness to help others.

We’re all aware that each person on the planet lives a different lifestyle, but there is knowing and then there is empathizing. The level of awareness that grows from experiencing a novel situation weighs greater than the awareness of something told to us.

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It’s easier than you think and can be done on a budget.

Gap year is about the experience, not luxuries. Therefore, getting to, through and from different countries can be planned easily with limited finances. Non-profit and charity organizations may support gap year students who want to volunteer by finding housing or covering food expenses. Some student travelers also find jobs and work their way through the countries they visit. Visiting countries and cities with a lower cost of living, as well as sleeping in backpacker/hostel accommodations, will also shave costs.

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It’s the adventure of a lifetime.

The greatest gift that anyone can give to themselves or to others is a meaningful life with a bright future. This is the point of a gap year; it is an opportunity to develop, learn and grow.

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