You’ve just spent twelve years in consecutive schooling. You’ve taken standardized tests, attended lectures, done years worth of workbook assignments and even likely found some profoundly inspiring teachers along your path.

You’re also 18 and every neuron in your brain along with every bone in your body is telling you to explore: to “know thyself” and the world you’re a part of. Meanwhile, your parents and society are telling you to get focused and find your place in society. But here’s the rub: you don’t even know what your options are and the menu you’ve been shown has only “practical” items on it — lawyer, doctor, et cetera.

A quality gap year is designed to meet several very specific needs as young people are asked to determine the course of their lives based on little global and life experience. A gap year helps students in three key areas:  

1. Career skills

Young people are rightfully demanding work that is fulfilling and not just a paycheck. How do you get to fulfilling work — work that matters to you — without first exploring your own personal motives and the careers those might lead to? Additionally, most employers agree that employees who are well-rounded, culturally savvy and purpose-driven are a better investment.

2. Self-awareness and purpose

At 18, we are hard-wired to establish our own identity and explore.  In fact, the most common reason listed to take a gap year is a “desire to know more about myself and the world around me.”

3. Academics and global citizenship

Maximizing an already-expensive post-secondary degree is a natural outcome from a gap year, adding context to past academic theory. However, for many who never complete their college degree, a gap year can save mountains in time and money.

A gap year is an experiential semester or “year on,” typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional and personal awareness.” Most colleges are embracing the concept for great reasons: Students have improved GPAs, with an effect that lasts all four years (<0.15-0.45), time-to-graduation is faster (average of 4 years), on-campus leadership roles are notable and career satisfaction is higher (86 percent are satisfied or very satisfied).

The truth is that we probably have more information on our smart phones and the internet than the sum total of mankind’s libraries — what our youth need is experience to be able to know what to do with that information. More colleges and employers are seeing the value in young people who embark on a gap semester of experiential education that is inclusive of college credit and federal financial aid.