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Take a year off before college and explore. It can really work for you in the long run, says Ethan Knight, executive director of the American Gap Association.

This year off is often referred to as a "gap year" and the trend is starting to take off in the states. There is evidence to suggest that a structured gap year—one that focuses on building character and self-esteem through volunteer service and learning—can actually help students perform better once they enter the college classroom. Some research shows that students who take some time off from college will exceed expectations.