Taking a Gap Year Before College

Sue Shellenbarger:

Eighteen-year-old Monika Lutz had dreams of a career helping solve economic and social problems in poor nations. So after high school, she took a year off before college to work with a company, suggested by family friends, that is trying to bring solar power to a remote village in India.
A few weeks of living in a mud hut changed her mind. Exhausted by the obstacles, she says, she told herself, “I’m not ready. I can’t dedicate my life to this yet.”
When Ms. Lutz starts college in the fall, she plans to explore other careers. “If I hadn’t gone on a gap year, I might have spent four years and $200,000 on tuition to end up in that same country and find out the same thing,” says Ms. Lutz, of Boulder, Colo.
College-admission letters are starting to roll in, but a growing number of students will decide instead to take a year off to try out potential careers or broaden their horizons. Gap-year activities range from doing volunteer work or taking classes, to working for pay, traveling or tackling outdoor adventures.