Considering an Adult ‘Gap Year’ to Begin Your Next Chapter?

10 questions to ask when selecting a university-based encore program


(Editor’s note: This content is sponsored by University of Texas TOWER Fellows Program.)

Today, many students are electing to get away, taking an amazing “gap year” between high school and college. Similarly, university-based encore programs can be thought of as a gap year for adults, as these students go back to school for an incredible experience on campus. Encore programs offer successful, accomplished individuals the opportunity to pivot, or to begin a new phase in their lives. Offering inspiration, education and connection, encore programs are immensely powerful and beneficial.

While conceptually similar, encore programs differ widely and selecting the program that is right for you requires research and careful consideration. The ideal program for you will depend on your personal goals, level of commitment and several other factors. Here are 10 questions to consider before you apply:

1. What Are Your Goals?

While programs may sound alike and the photos on the shiny brochures may look similar, not all university encore programs are created equal. The program you choose should be directly related to your unique aspirations. Make a list of your desired outcomes, and use it as a guide while researching programs.

2. Do You Want to Dive in Headfirst, Or Dip Your Toes?

Are you looking to immerse yourself fully, or to attend an occasional lecture or event? Be sure to identify your level of commitment upfront, as programs vary in their rigor and level of engagement. While the most significant impact often corresponds to a full commitment, if you’re not able to give it your all, you may be better off selecting a program that caters to “part-time” students or one that offers less immersive options.

3. Location? …Location. Location.

As when you were an undergrad, the atmosphere of the city or town where the university is located will significantly impact your experience. From the climate (do you hate hot or cold weather?) to cultural resources such as museums and libraries to the vibe of the city to where you can spend your free time exploring, location is a key consideration. Is the city age-forward and committed to an inter-generational culture? Is it easy to navigate the area, and to get in and out to visit family and friends? Things like climate, terrain and mobility can make a big difference, especially when walking outdoors around campus for nine months.

4. Are You Ready to Leave Your Title at The Door?

Can you really disconnect entirely from your current work and professional life? Are you ready to give up your expert status to return humbly to your novice-level new pursuits? To make the most of a deep-dive encore program, you should be ready to embrace new things, especially those outside your current knowledge domains. Be honest with yourself: If you’re not quite ready to leave your impressive creds behind for a year, a less-immersive program may be the better choice for you.

5. Table for One… Or Two?

Will you engage on this journey alone or with your partner or spouse? At the very least, immersive programs require the support of your family and friends. Some programs are more catered toward the enrolled individual, while others are better able to accommodate couples, even offering unique programming options and special social and extracurricular events.

6. There’s No Place Like Home? 

Do you want to relocate (temporarily or permanently) to a brand-new city, or stay someplace familiar or close to home? If you’ll be moving in for a year, do you want the opportunity to live on campus or somewhere nearby? Or do you prefer to live off-campus to enjoy the city, too? University communities offer a multitude of accommodation options, with a mix of amenities and price points to consider.

7. How Flexible Are You? 

Are you looking for a highly structured program within a specific field of study, or are you seeking flexibility and the freedom to explore broadly? Some programs are greatly focused, offering set programming, classes or tracks. Others allow you to explore at will, from unlimited course enrollments to independent studies with top professors across the campus. Do your homework on the program and all that university has to offer, and dive in from there.

8. Do You Think Going Back to School Is Cool?

How engaged do you want to be in your classes? Do you want to quietly observe from the back, or will you fully engage and work with students, even going so far as to complete assignments and tests? Professors rule the roost in their classrooms, so you’ll need to consider if and how they wish for you to participate, and if that’s in your comfort zone. It’s often best to speak directly with the faculty member to determine the most appropriate way to engage.

9. How’s Your Health?

Do you need anything specific when it comes to your medical needs and health care? Does the location offer the services you’ll need including accommodating any health issues or disabilities you may have? More routinely, consider your current level of mobility. Campuses are often large and spread out, so get your Fitbit out and be prepared to get in some mileage! Some programs also offer fitness and health assessments and may even offer training services to help you get back that body you had as an undergrad.

10. Are You Up to the Challenge? 

Are you curious? Willing to leave your comfort zone? From making presentations to selecting courses to managing your calendar and schedule, an encore program comes with amazing opportunities and a lot of responsibilities. Make sure you’re ready and committed – then select the program that presents the right level of challenge for you.

University Encore Programs are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only are they an excellent way to pivot during important moments, but they are a fun and exciting adventure, too. Preparing for your journey will help you ensure you get the most out of your “gap year” experience. Learn more about Encore programs and see what the University of Texas TOWER Fellows Program offers for you.

logo for Text TOWER Fellows program
By University of Texas TOWER Fellows Program
The TOWER Fellows Program at The University of Texas at Austin provides accomplished individuals an opportunity to renew their passions at one of the nation’s leading research universities. The TOWER Fellows Program is a full-time immersion opportunity that spans an academic year. The program includes inspiring discussions with world-class thinkers and doers, access to exceptional courses and professors on campus and a backstage pass to the best events the University has to offer. As a bonus, Fellows have the opportunity to live in and explore the beautifully unique surroundings of Austin, Texas, ranked the “Best Place to Live” in the United States according to U.S. News & World Report.

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