How to Travel Alone

Let’s face it. It can be scary to travel alone, either as a man or a woman, especially in a foreign country where you don’t have your friends or family to help you, or even explore with you. As someone who has traveled alone in different parts of the world, I have some “do’s” and “don’ts” for when it comes to traveling alone. And maybe I’ll even give you a few reasons to start solo traveling…

#1: DO learn a few basics of the language in that country. It could be as simple as learning a few greetings and how to order a coffee, but that goes a long way. Locals, no matter where you are, really appreciate if you put in some amount of effort to speak their language. And it can help you feel more confident when you’re by yourself in a new place.

#2: DON’T be scared to take public transportation. Specifically, in Europe, I was afraid that it would be dangerous to take the metro or tram alone, especially at night. However, I found that I had no problems, always felt safe, and I saved tons of money taking the metro as opposed to taking Uber or taxis!

#3: DO start up conversations with other people. You’d be surprised by how many locals are interested in getting to know you, and how many fellow travelers you’re surrounded by! I found that I actually connected better with people I met along the way when I was alone because I was more invested in finding friends and people to keep me company. I’m even friends on Facebook with a few of them now!

Anna and her friend she met in Paris!

#4: DON’T lock yourself away in your hotel room! It’s easy to put something off because you’d only do it or see it if you had someone with you, but don’t make that an excuse to do nothing! Come up with things you want to do, and then go out and do them!

 #5: DO ask other people to take photos of you. This is something I felt really awkward about at first. I wanted photos to document what I saw, and I wanted to be in at least some of them (and I am not a fan of public selfies). I was pleasantly surprised at how nice people were when I asked them to take a photo of just me. I got over my fear of being “awkward” very quickly, and now I have photos from my solo trips that I’ll have forever.

Anna in front of Notre Dame

 #6: DON’T always have your headphones on. This is something I’ve noticed that a lot of people do when they’re by themselves, traveling or not. I’m not telling you to stop entirely, but when you’re traveling, it is so amazing to observe and listen to things as you walk by. There are definitely some things you can miss when you’re “plugged in.”

#7: DO stay in hostels! Hostels can be a great way to meet other people from around the world who are either traveling alone or in a group. Either way, hanging out at the bar or in the common area of your hostel is a great way to meet other travelers and make friends!

#8: DON’T be afraid to eat alone. So many of my friends have told me that they’ve skipped meals in the past, just because they have no one to eat with. I understand this feeling of awkwardness, but the reality is that no one else besides you really cares. I tend to feel comfortable eating alone, but sometimes I will bring along a book to read, my journal to write in, or even my phone to watch a show on. Just, please, don’t skip a meal because you’re alone!

 

Solo traveling is an amazing thing, and I encourage everyone to do it at some point during their lives. So many of my positive experiences while traveling have been when I’m without anyone else. There’s something about traveling alone that changes my perspective and makes me more eager to connect with others, more observant, and more grateful for what I’m doing. DO travel alone!

 

Feel free to check out Anna’s personal blog to read more about her Winterline experience!

Gap Year Decision Day!

You’ve heard of College Decision Day, so what’s the difference? Gap Year Decision Day, taking place on May 25th each year, is a day dedicated to celebrating students who have decided to take a gap year! We also want to increase social awareness that there are other options, like a gap year, for students and young people. Go ahead and check out the hashtag #GapYearDecisionDay on Instagram and Twitter to learn more about what other students are doing with their gap years.

I decided to take a gap year with Winterline right around this time last year, and I deferred my admission from Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, MA. A lot of people ask me about the process of deferring, which is unique to every school. I thought in honor of this day I’d share my experience with you all!

I applied to colleges during the fall of my senior year of high school, just like any typical U.S. student. I applied to a total of eight schools, all regular decision, and was so excited when I was accepted to my first choice of Babson College in the spring. I decided to go to the campus for a second time to interview for a scholarship and attend “Launch Babson,” which is their version of Accepted Students Day.

 

Anna at Babson College, where she’ll be in the Class of 2022!

When I got back to my hotel room after a long day of tours, interviews, and talking to other students, I had an email in my inbox from Winterline. It was an acceptance letter. I was thrilled and felt as if everything had finally fallen into place, especially after a grueling year of college applications and five AP classes. It was in that moment that I decided I would be going to Babson College, but only after I did the Winterline Global Skills Program.

For me, deferring was easy. I emailed the dean of undergraduate admissions that night and then conveniently spoke with him the next day on campus! The admissions office sent me some paperwork, and once I signed it and sent in my deposit to secure my spot, I was ready to accept my enrollment with Winterline.

Ever since then, Babson has been very accommodating and answers all my questions when I call or email them. I got very lucky because Babson not only allowed me to defer, but was excited and encouraging of it! It just helped me solidify my decision to do Winterline, which has become the best decision I’ve ever made. I am more prepared for college, and I have rediscovered my curiosity outside of a classroom.

I recognize that not all colleges will be like this, especially bigger universities, but you’d be surprised at how many schools are now encouraging students to take a gap year. Winterline Staff recently posted a blog with tips for deferring from college, which is also super helpful if you’re looking to do that.

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us or check out Anna’s personal blog.

My Gap Year Reflection

I could sit someone down for, well nine months, and go through the nitty, gritty details of my gap year trip with Winterline. Instead, I would like to share why I decided to do Winterline and how that morphed into what I’ve gotten out of the program.

In my first journal entry that I completed in my first week of the program, I claimed that the reason I was on Winterline was to “learn more about myself, bond with my peers and form lifelong relationships, and learn in an alternative way.” Sitting here, looking back on the past nine months of my life, I accomplished all of those goals that I set for myself.

winterline gap year trip
Anna enjoying a sunset in the Wind River Range with friends on NOLS.

One of the biggest surprises for me in terms of “learning about myself” was how much I learned about myself. I always envisioned that “discovering who I am” would miraculously just happen at one point in my life, and I would suddenly have this answer. But, I discovered that my journey with Winterline was primarily an introspective journey, which ended up being one of the most important skills for me. And I learned a lot about myself.

I learned about my love and connectedness to the outdoors. I learned that I can’t “sit still” for long and need to stay active and explore, wherever I am. I learned how much I value, and need, alone time. I learned how much of a hard time I have receiving feedback, and I learned how to navigate that weakness. I learned that it’s okay to be an emotional person. I learned that I need to dedicate myself to self-care. I learned that I am a powerful leader, something I already knew, but that I further discovered in this group. And I learned that I still have a lot more to learn about myself, and it is an ever-evolving journey.

winterline gap year trip
Alice and Anna enjoying the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

When I think about my desire to get close with my peers and “form lifelong relationships,” it’s funny to look back on how naïve I was. I had this plan to be best friends with everyone in my group and be a peace-maker. In reality, I formed three strong, unbreakable bonds with people in my group and I am confident that I will stay in touch with those three in the future. The biggest lesson I learned when navigating relationships in the group is that it is okay to not like some people, and it is a given in any big group. It’s not necessary to be best friends with everyone, and frankly that’s not realistic for anyone. I made incredible connections with my peers and field advisors, but I wasn’t everyone’s best friend. It was a difficult lesson for me to learn, especially because I am so people-oriented, but I am grateful for my group as a whole and for every individual in the group. Everyone taught me something different.

And lastly, I learned in many, many alternative ways. I am an academically-focused person, and it’s just a core part of who I am. I enjoy taking notes, asking questions, and completing projects. A big part of my reason to go on Winterline was to challenge this traditional way I learn, and to see how I respond to learning in an environment without grades. One of the biggest examples that stands out to me is when I did my independent study project in Costa Rica. I did a “Spanish Immersion” course for five days with two professors. Every day, I had conversations entirely in Spanish and learned through asking questions in Spanishand by being corrected by my professors. I also took a cooking class, dancing lesson, and tour of the suspended bridges in Monteverde, all in Spanish.I learned more Spanish in those 5 days that I did in probably a full semester in high school. That experience is a reflection of the countless other ways I learned skills, and I feel more confident to go into college with more learning strategies under my belt.

winterline gap year trip
Anna learning how to repair a flat tire.

Winterline is special. I miss the program and the people dearly, but I look back on my year with no regrets, knowing that I got everything out of the program that I sought out to. I learned the life skills, but I learned much more beyond those- a lot of intangible lessons.

If you have the opportunity to do Winterline, you owe it to yourself to do it. Coming from an academically-focused person, doing Winterline was the best decision I have ever made. I encourage you to take the first step out of your comfort zone and apply.

If you have any questions for Anna, please feel free to contact us at admissions@winterline.com, or check out her personal blog!

New Student Spotlight: Maria O’Neal

Gap Year students on the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travel to 10 different countries over 9 months, where they learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


THE CONCEPT OF A GAP YEAR PROGRAM IS STILL NEW FOR MANY STUDENTS. WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE IDEA OF TAKING A GAP YEAR?

The idea of taking a gap year came up when I told my parents I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to study in college, they suggested a gap year to learn more about myself and what I like to do. I have since kinda figured out what I would like to study but would still want to learn more about the world and myself.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I love to travel and want to see a bit of the world and have an adventure before I go back to school.  It could also help me figure out what I want to study.

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

All of the skills look super fun and interesting though I am looking forward to learning to cook in Thailand; I would love to be able to have some culinary skill besides just pasta, pancakes, and quesadillas.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I will be going to Colorado State University (GO Rams!) and the current plan is to get my Master’s in physical therapy with a minor in sports psychology, but I am still open to a lot of different career paths.

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

I don’t know if this counts as traveling but I was born in Spain and lived there until I was seven. During that time we traveled a lot throughout Europe. Since moving to the states I have been back to Europe a couple of times and have also been to San Carlos, Mexico. My favorite trip was back to Spain when my family and I spent a week sailing around Mallorca and had an amazing time.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I hope to learn about the amazing different cultures around the world and I hope to find more activities that I enjoy and could use the rest of my life.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I am always looking forward to new adventures, I consider myself pretty optimistic, I am hardworking and looking forward to the challenges this trip presents. I love to laugh and make cheesy jokes, and I can’t wait to meet new people.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student

WHY WINTERLINE?

I loved that Winterline focuses on exposing its participants to more careers, teaches new skills, and offers a chance to meet fellow adventurers.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I am a mountain girl at heart. As mentioned above I was born in Spain but now reside in a small mountain town where I enjoy skiing, trail running, and many different types of adventuring. I dabble in photography and weird dancing.

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Independent Travel: My Empowering Europe ISP Experience

Before I was even enrolled in Winterline, I knew that I wanted to study cooking in France during my Europe ISP (Independent Study Project). I’ve always had a deep interest in baking and cooking, especially given that I grew up in a household where family meals were of high importance, and brought us all together. What I didn’t realize, however, was that spending a week alone in Paris, with my sole intent of learning a variety of traditional French cooking skills, would actually teach me the power of my own independence.  

Anna holding up her eclairs that she made at La Cuisine, her cooking school in Paris!

On my first full day in Paris, I had an entire day to spend doing nothing. I didn’t have cooking classes, nor did I have anything scheduled on my calendar (a rare occurrence for me). After sleeping in, going out to get some groceries, and having lunch at a local Pho restaurant, I got back to my Airbnb apartment and came up with a general itinerary for my week. I realized that there was so much I wanted to do in Paris- more than I could even fit in if I stayed for a month. And this was in addition to wanting to learn how to cook and bake, so I set out to do all those things. And I was able to do all of them, because I was alone.

Anna captured Monet’s Water Lillies at L’Orangerie.

I walked through the Tuileries and took a nap in a chair at a small fountain, like all the locals were doing. I visited Musee D’Orsay and fell in love with Van Gogh’s work. I visited the Eiffel Tower. I had the richest and most delicious hot chocolate, at Angelina. I had the best macaron of my life. I had the best ice cream of my life. I had the only, and best, escargot of my life. I had a personal style consultation. I saw the most beautiful view of Paris, on the roof of a mall. I walked everywhere. And I fearlessly navigated the metro every day and night. I ran across the Paris marathon. I went to L’Orangerie and wandered as I admired Monet’s Water Lilies. I interviewed a French chef. I modeled for a caricaturist in front of Notre Dame. And I learned how to make classic French sauces, pate a choux and eclairs, two types of macarons, debone a chicken and make a variety of meals with it, and how to select the proper ingredients at any market.

That encompasses a little more than half of what I did while I was in Paris for just over a week.

Anna’s delicious macarons that she made in class!

During this week, I discovered how competent and powerful I am, and that my interests range even more than I thought. The cooking classes were amazing, and I’ve already used some of my newfound skills at home. But most importantly, I discovered more for myself in Paris than I would have if I was with anyone else. Because I was alone, I only did the things that I wanted to do, and I never felt badly for dragging someone along with me because I wanted to see something.

Spending my week alone in Paris was empowering and thrilling. And it allowed me to see how much can do on my own.

If given the opportunity, I highly recommend that every traveler, spends a significant amount of time traveling alone. I promise you’ll see yourself, and wherever you are, in a different light.

 

To learn more about independent travel, feel free to contact us or read more on our blog!

Also, check out Anna’s personal blog!

 

New Student Spotlight: Tyler Trout

The Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travels to 10 different countries over 9 months, where students learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


THE CONCEPT OF A GAP YEAR PROGRAM IS STILL NEW FOR MANY STUDENTS. WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE IDEA OF TAKING A GAP YEAR?

I first heard of people taking gap years when I was in middle school. I thought it was a really cool idea and I kept it in the back of my head through high school. When I started applying to various colleges, I wasn’t feeling very excited about it and knew I didn’t want to go straight to four more years of school. I decided that I wanted to take a gap year and through some research on the topic I discovered the Winterline Global Skills Program.  

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I chose to take a gap year because I wanted to travel to new places and have new experiences. I have always loved traveling. I also love learning, but sitting in a classroom isn’t my idea of fun. Learning skills without having to be in class sounds like a fantastic opportunity.

Tyler trout winterline

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I am most excited to learn how to cook with ingredients in different countries! I love to cook at home and I make various meals for my friends and family, so learning to expand that talent is something I really look forward to.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I’m not entirely sure what I want to do in the future. I have always liked the idea of being a veterinarian because I know I would be happy helping animals. Overall I just want to have fun and do what I feel passionate about.

Tyler trout winterline

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

I have traveled to various places with family and friends, but my favorite trip was when I visited my uncle in Colombia, South America. It was a really cool experience to be fully immersed in a foreign country. I went to three cities: Medellín, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. Each city had a completely different feel. I saw one of Pablo Escobar’s hideouts in Medellín, hiked to a remote jungle beach in Santa Marta and conversed with Argentine cowboys in Cartagena. It was a really cool adventure with my uncle and, while traveling, I was able to practice my Spanish speaking skills.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I would like to make lifelong friends, get a better understanding of the world, and make great memories. Going to ten different countries and seeing so much of the world is an amazing opportunity that not many people will ever get so I really want to make the most of it.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I’m a fun and outgoing person who tries to see the best in everything! I love meeting new people and making friends! I enjoy trying novel things and am open to unique opportunities!

WHY WINTERLINE?

No other program gives you the chance to see so many different places and learn so many new skills and talents. I looked at a few other gap year programs and they were all only one semester or only went to one location. Winterline is a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t find anywhere else.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I love dogs and a good game of pick up football!

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Winterline Graduation 2018 Highlights

At graduation this year, our students not only celebrated completing their program, but also presented “story slams” about their time abroad. Story slams are brief presentations highlighting students’ favorite moments during their gap year. These presentations were given in front of everyone at graduation as a final part of the program.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

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We are so proud of our students for their ability to express themselves and command a room. The following photos and videos are highlights from the story slams and graduation ceremony. We hope you enjoy!

Blue Cohort Story Slams

winterline gap year graduation
Elaine presenting her story slam on bungee jumping.

The day kicked off with story slams from our Blue Cohort. Elaine was the first to present. She told us about her adventures bungee jumping on a rest day in Costa Rica. Her advice? “Don’t tell people your plans before you go bungee jumping. They will spend all of the time leading up to you going trying to scare you.” Despite her friends trying to scare her, we can tell she had a blast! In Samir’s clip above, he highlights the importance of experiential learning. We have to say, we are very impressed with our students polished public speaking skills. It’s clear that we have some great presenters, and possibly some future stand-up comedians, in our newly graduated class!

winterline gap year graduation
Cody presenting his story slam
winterline gap year graduation
Proud Field Advisors watching the Blue Cohort’s story slams.
winterline gap year graduation
Meagan presenting her story slam at graduation.

While some students chose to talk about activities and experiences, Meagan chose to talk about the relationships she made within her cohort. The blue squad’s “Girl Gang” was a tight knit group of all the girls from the Blue Cohort and the Blue Field Advisors Erica and Patrick. Meagan told us about how having such a solid support group changed her life. She also shared many funny stories about their time traveling abroad.

Fellow girl gang member, Savannah, honored those who had mentally and physically supported her during her gap year by naming the best piggy back ride providers. Winners included Erica, Patrick, Meagan and Whitaker who received the participation award. Dini spoke after Savannah, highlighting her time in Costa Rica at the environmentally conscious and sustainable community, Rancho Mastatal. She also shared her singing talents with us. Check out the video below!

winterline gap year graduation
Savannah sharing her story slam
winterline gap year graduation
Dini describing her time at Rancho Mastatal

Green Cohort Story Slams

Blue’s story slams were followed by the Green Cohort. Andrew was the first up for green. He kicked the group off on a fantastic note and was followed by Alice, who made everyone laugh while she recounted her story of falling off a bike in Cambodia. (She didn’t get hurt, we promise!)

winterline gap year graduation
Andrew presenting his story slam
winterline gap year graduation
Alice making light of a then scary moment, falling off a bike in Cambodia.

Patrick shared how sports allowed him to connect across cultures while traveling the world. Through watching and playing sports with the people he met abroad, Patrick was able to form new relationships. Following Patrick, Hayden shared with us what she would tell her past self about taking a gap year. At the start of the program she wrote herself a letter which she shared with us. Now at the end of the program she wrote her past self a reply.

winterline gap year graduation
Patrick sharing his thoughts on sports and travel.
winterline gap year graduation
Hayden reading her letter to herself.

Graduation Ceremony

For the graduation ceremony itself, students were called up individually and presented with a khata. A khata is a traditional Tibetan scarf that is symbolic of purity and compassion. It is common for these to be worn at major life events, like graduations. After receiving their khata, our students were given their diplomas and were honored by their Field Advisors and other Winterline staff.

winterline gap year graduation
Elaine being presented with her khata.
winterline gap year graduation
Dini after receiving her diploma.
winterline gap year graduation
Patrick congratulating Sophia on graduating and her completion of the Winterline Program.
winterline gap year graduation
Nick congratulating Alex on her graduation.
winterline gap year graduation
Green Cohort boys, post Graduation.
winterline gap year graduation
Silly Grads! Our Blue and Green Cohorts together.
winterline gap year graduation
Our Blue Cohort
Winterline gap year graduation
Our Green Cohort

After the ceremony, we took group photos of our students and celebrated with a reception. For more graduation photos be sure to check out our Facebook album here.

Want to hear first hand from a Winterline alum? We’re always happy to set up prospective students with alumni for them to get a better understanding of our program. If you have any questions about the Winterline program or would like to be connected with an alumni, reach out to us at admissions@winterline.com! Applications are open for our Fall 2018 Gap Year program. Now through May 25th we are offering $1000 off in honor of gap year decision day.

 

5 Steps to Defer College

What to Know

Choosing to defer before you apply:

If you have yet to apply to college, be sure to note on your application that you’re considering a gap year. You can do this by explaining why you want to take a gap year and how you plan to spend your time off. Write this in the essay or personal statement part of your application.

Choosing to defer after being offered admission:

If you decide to defer after being admitted, you will need to contact the university and inquire about their deferment practices. At some universities, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Others may grant deferral upon request without need for additional information. Prepare to provide detailed information about your gap year if the college requires it. If you’re considering a gap year that has some relevant bearing on your intended course of study, be sure to indicate that when you make your request.

Things to consider when deferring admission:

Deferring admission may mean several things at different universities. You will lose your housing, you could lose your scholarships if they cannot be deferred too, and you may have to reapply for admission again after your gap year. Talk to the college and ask them about their deferral policies. The American Gap Year Association surveyed some colleges about their policies and their responses will help you see how different colleges handle deferrals.

What if the university denies your request?

If the college denies your request to defer, you have two options. You can enter college in the fall and opt to study abroad during your four-year college experience. Or you can take the year off to travel with a program and reapply the following year. Again, always remember to consider the opportunity and benefits a gap year presents.

If you request a deferment, you will lose your spot in the upcoming class.

Once you request the deferment, and the college approves your request, you cannot change your mind. Colleges release your spot to wait-listed students. Your decision will be final, so act confidently!

What to Do

Follow these 5 steps when requesting to take a gap year:

1: Do your research and determine which gap year is best for you.

2: Contact the admissions department and tell them that you are interested in taking a gap year.

3: Explain your reasons for taking a gap year, including any relevant information that might coincide with future study.

4Contact the financial aid office to determine whether or not your scholarships and merit aid will still be available when you enter college the next year.

5: Secure approval from the college before beginning your gap year.

It’s relieving to know that college will still be an option when you return from a gap year. So if that was a fear holding you back, what else are you waiting for?

Lesson #2 from My Gap Year: Try Everything

A follow up of Ben’s first post about his gap year.

A Gap Year is a fantastic way to get some answers. Typically, more important than finding what you want to pursue, is finding out what you absolutely don’t want to pursue. Prospective gap year students should seek the greatest breadth of experiences possible in order to check off potential areas of study, and pursue the short list that remains once in college.

Designing my own gap year is still one of my greatest accomplishments. I take pride in the fact that I turned “I’m not ready for college yet” into one of the most productive years of my life. I hiked the 2,174.6-mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, worked in a variety of industries, and taught English in Peru. In looking at potential interests that I pursued, however, I was only able to check off a few. I learned that I didn’t want to work in telemarketing or light fixture manufacturing (no surprise there), data entry, or retail. But these were the jobs that I could get straight out of high school. The good news is this lesson made me really want to get a college degree, so my first semester in college yielded my highest grades yet. The bad news? I still didn’t know what to study.

I came away from my gap year interested in education, but my lack of breadth throughout the year meant my examination of other disciplines was far from over. I started majors in communication, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology. I waited until the last possible day – halfway through sophomore year – to declare my major as international relations. I wandered through more than a third of my college education. J.R.R. Tolkien was right when he wrote that, “Not all who wander are lost” – in fact, I had a pin stating that on my backpack for the entire trail that year – but when the financial stakes are as high as they are in college, it’s best to have focus.

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My advice to you: don’t treat your college tuition money like the entrance to a buffet. Instead, spend your gap year doing as much as possible in as many areas of interest as possible. You will become a well-rounded person, a greater asset to your school and future employer, and a more interesting person!

A skills-based gap year is the best way to ensure that when you step on campus as a freshman, you’ll know what to do next.