For college-minded teens and their families, the usual plan of action is to head off to college the fall immediately following high school graduation. Four (or more) years of education is the natural move to keep the learning going and the teen in a structured environment.

But what about those teens who aren't ready to go straight to college and are seeking a year to do something off the beaten path? For those who have the flexibility – be it living with their parents, saved money, or a deferred acceptance to their college or university – teens who take a "gap" year can truly benefit from the experience. Here are four reasons this time away from schooling can make an impact that will last through college and beyond.

1. Discover Passions and Talents

Not every high schooler knows what they want to do or who they "want to be" right out of the gate. Even those who look forward to the college experience may wish to head into freshman year with some idea of where to focus their studies rather than going for a liberal arts program or without a point of reference.

Teens can take this year to research, intern, or even head abroad to enlighten and expand their imaginations to give them a sense of purpose, leading to a field of study that will benefit their future. As per Go Abroad, "There are so many life paths to follow, and so many careers and academic majors that you might have never considered. There are career fields out there that high school doesn't even touch on."

This time, whether at home or away, is the perfect time for the teen to reflect on who they are as a person, leading them to make choices that jive with their personality and interests. According to Her Campus, "Although we have a lot of responsibilities by the time we graduate high school, we're still pretty young. We've only known ourselves as a part of some kind of unit." It's the perfect time to see what makes the individual tick without peer influence, parental control, and the limited surroundings of the traditional school setting.

2. Better Prep for the Years to Come

Time off can help a teen become more mature and prepared for their transition to adulthood. Going straight from the high school hallways to the college dorms is a change, but still a similar course. Having time to make their own decisions, plan their own schedules, and learning as they go, teens will have the ammo to navigate college life where many decisions are left to the students.

As per Go Abroad, "Studies have shown that those who take a gap year perform better in college and are more satisfied with their careers after college." This year to restructure could be the very reason why.

The New York Times notes, "Nationally, one-third of college freshman don't return for a second year." With a gap year under their belts, students will be more likely to remain in school due to their time off to realize why they want to attend college in the first place with a plan in place for a clear direction.

3. Reboot and Refresh

After nearly their entire lives in school, teens surely could use a break. Not to loaf around lazily, but to refresh their minds and spirits, weigh their options, and reboot and recharge their brains for some of the most intense learning experiences they'll ever have.

As The New York Times puts it, "What if college freshman arrived on campus not burnt out from having been 'excellent sheep' in high school, but instead refreshed, focused and prepared to take full advantage of the rich resources and opportunities colleges have to offer?"

As long as their minds remain stimulated and the teens are doing something productive during this year, they'll remain school-ready yet with a newfound eagerness to get back to class with a mind ready to absorb new knowledge like a sponge.

4. Do Something Impactful

Along with taking time to grow personally and take some well-needed time for reflection and relaxation, a year off can become a time for making a difference in the world. Teens can use this year to volunteer, work with kids or the elderly, help their families make money, or something else that involves a giving mentality.

This "do good" notion will not only aid those in need but can impact the future goals for the teen. As per Go Abroad, "Maybe volunteering would fire you up with a passion for public health and you'll go pre-med in college. Maybe you'll realize that what you actually love is one-on-one mentoring, and you'll return home to join a mentoring organization to work with local kids."

Additionally, the work done can be used towards college credit or fulfill certain college-recommended or obligatory criteria. A win-win all around. Check out some gap year programs that can get any teen ready for a year to remember.

If you're a college-bound teen or a parent of one, this "gap" year could be a game changer. Consider the positives before diving head-first into freshman year. One year can mean many much more productive years to come.

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