Should You Consider a GAP Year?

You’ve likely heard your friends talking about taking a year off before getting back to the grind in college. But what is it? How do you do it? What’s the likelihood of making moves after?

Whatever you choose, you’ll find that taking some time off after high school can be beneficial to your mental health and make a positive impact as you discover yourself, your interests, and your passions.

What is a gap year?


A gap year is a chunk of time after high school that is dedicated to experiential learning. High school is tough, and the academic and social pressures can cause severe burnout. This is typically when high-school graduates find time to travel, find paid work, become an intern and make connections outside of the classroom – you know; “adulting”. Gap years have been described as a reset to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness. This can really help you gain confidence in your abilities to become independent which can greatly benefit someone when choosing a career and correlating major pathways in college.

Potential Cons:

Something to consider: taking a gap year isn’t for everyone. Think about the last time you took a vacation somewhere: when you returned, your motivation to do homework or clean your room was probably low. If this is your truth, consider some of the disadvantages of taking a gap year. Some students can feel a sense of lost momentum, fear of falling behind, and struggle knowing that the transition back to school may become more difficult. When we say that a gap year is heavy on planning, trust us (especially if you’re considering travel). One thing’s for sure, if you’re considering it,  you should go into your gap year with a clear plan of what you’re aiming for. If you don’t keep focused and aim toward a goal, you’re likely to miss out on the positive advantages a gap year can offer.

Should you take a gap year?

A decision of this caliber totally shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, the only person who truly knows the answer to this question isn’t your parents or teachers; it’s you. Consider this your first “adult” decision. It’s important to consider the pros and cons when making a choice and know how valid you are when weighing out your options! This year has the potential to be the most amazing adventure of your life by shaping your perspective on what success means to you.

As always, go with your gut and remember that no matter which direction you take, we’re here to cheer you on and prepare you for your next steps! 

Ways to Avoid Summer Brain Drain

Summer is meant to recharge and unwind, obviously. But we have to keep it real, you run the risk of catching what we call the “Summer Brain Drain” by not exercising your mind while you’re out of school. Keep reading to see how many items you’ve accomplished this summer.

Dive into a good book

You probably already know, reading is one of the best ways for you to keep your brain sharp. During the school year, reading is part of your daily to-do list, but in summer – it’s easy to forget – we get it. Just be mindful to schedule some time before bed or first thing in the morning to read (even if it’s just 10 minutes at a time).

Go to summer camp

Summer camps are an awesome way to stay interactive with your peers, make new friends, learn some new skills, and keep you from being bored! Consider volunteering or becoming a camp counselor as a resume booster!

Stay moving!

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Make it fun and find some friends to hike or kayak with. Note to self: walking is good for the soul.

Schedule a weekly game night

Board games designed to help you sharpen your problem solving skills, discover patterns, and reach goals. They also help to prevent you from feeling foggy when coming back to school in the fall.

Take a break from technology

Reset and spend time making connections with family and friends without a screen in front of your face. You can set limits on your phone for screen time and monitor it in your settings. 

Practice journaling

Literally about anything. What made you happy that day, a cool thing you learned, a letter to your future self. Have something good? Share it with us on IG! @encourage_app

Visit museums

So much to learn. And an ideal instagram-worthy moment.

Go on tours

Ever wonder how orange juice is made? There’s a tour for that. Whether it’s an orange juice factory or a glassblowing studio, take advantage! They’re typically very affordable and can offer a perspective on how things are made!

States and national parks

Hiking, chilling, photography – whatever! You can hit up your local parks to experience a mind-soothing outdoor sesh.  Don’t forget comfy shoes, water and a buddy!

Go camping

Ah, nature. Learn to start a fire or pitch a tent and connect with family and friends. Don’t forget your bug spray!

Plant a garden

By planting a garden, you have the chance to learn about nutrition and general green thumb lifehacks. Your future plant-parent self will thank you.

Make a bucket list 

Create a photo journal of your activities with a polaroid cameras and make a scrapbook of all your adventures!

5 Reasons You Should Download the Encourage App

So many things to do and SO little time. Trying to balance planning for the future and living in the present? We found a way to optimize an interactive, low-stress tool to make sure you’re covered for life after high school. We’re more than your average college planning app.  

Keep reading to learn more about why you should be sprinting to your app store after reading. 

We celebrate each step of your journey with milestones

The journey takes a lot of planning and a lot of steps, and this can seem really overwhelming. We’re ready to bake a cake and celebrate each step you achieve when planning for college; do you like chocolate or vanilla?

Match with colleges directly

You’ll create a profile and list preferences about cost, lifestyle, majors, and more to customize your college matches. Find the school that makes sense for you while you’re chasing your dreams. You’ll have the option to save schools that pique your interest and get to know them more.

Match with scholarships

No joke, college is expensive. Answer simple questions about your preferences, priorities about affordability, and other interests, and we’ll match you to your best-fit scholarship opportunities.

It’s basically a to-do list laid out for you! The guesswork is over.

Half of the battle is simply wondering what you need to do to make it work. Thankfully, we’ve designed your to do list for you depending on preferences and goals. Sounds like a win to us.

We’ve got the experience to make a difference

Long story short, we’ve got over 100 combined years of research experience to build a unique app experience that high school students love to use when planning for college. For the past 50 years, we have been evolving the way we do things by listening to the student experience and implementing changes as needed. In a nutshell, you can trust us to guide you in the right direction when painting a picture of your future!

Intrigued? We can’t blame you. Download the app below and take flight! We’ll be on standby with your cake.

10 Colleges on the Beach

Manifesting a #staycation lifestyle for you where the people aren’t salty, but the water is. Keep reading to learn about 10 colleges in coastal towns, where the beach is within a short driving distance so that you can soak in those ocean vibes all year long.

University of Miami – Miami, Florida

Distance from the beach: 11 miles from Southbeach and 7 miles from Downtown Miami

Type: Private, coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1925

Acceptance Rate: 33.1%

Average GPA: 3.8 based on a 4.0 scale

ACT Range: 31-34

SAT Range: 1350-1480

Average Price: $78,640 including room & board

The location is unmatched. The weather is amazing. Spring break is literally your backyard. The food? Chef’s kiss. Miami isn’t your typical college town, with surrounding oceans, canals, rivers, and bays that can also be educational! With 16 beaches to choose from and a diverse, fast-paced community, you’ll surely find your groove in Miami.

University of California – Irvine, California

Distance from the beach: 5 miles to Newport Beach

Type: Public, Coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1965

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Average GPA: 3.8 based on a 4.0 scale

ACT Range: 31-34

SAT Range: 1350-1480

Average Price: California residents (undergraduates) $15,737 Nonresidents (includes tuition, fees) $45,491

In a city that’s known for its geographical advantage—it has access to some of the best beaches on the west coast—UCI’s location is perfect. You can easily access Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Balboa Pier, and 30 minutes from Huntington Beach. These beaches can be visited all year long. And if you’re planning on staying at home during your trip, there are plenty of things to do in Irvine as well! The university offers many activities both on-campus and in the surrounding community.

University of North Carolina – Wilmington, North Carolina

Distance from the beach: 5 miles from Wrightsville Beach in the Atlantic Ocean

Type: Public, Coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1947

Acceptance Rate: 68%

Average GPA: 4.06

ACT Range: 24-28

SAT Avg: 1160-1310

Average Price: In-state tuition is $18,541 and $32,649 out of state

For those of you who are looking for a college campus that is both centrally located and has breathtaking views, look no further than UNCW! The Gary Shell Cross-City Trail cuts through campus making this university easily accessible by bicycle. With beautiful beaches, gorgeous parks, and a thriving community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff all working together to make it an amazing place to be—UNCW is definitely worth a visit!

Texas A&M University – Galveston, Texas

Distance from the beach: 5.7 miles to Stewart Beach, but coastal to Galveston Bay and driving distance to Houston, TX

Type: Public, coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1962

Acceptance Rate: 55%

Average GPA: 3.49

ACT Range: 22-26

SAT Range: 1070 – 1310

Average Price: In-state tuition is $6,389/year, and out-of-state tuition is $14,813/yearThis quaint research campus deserves some recognition for offering an ocean-oriented experience for students, all while soaking in the views of Galveston Bay. TAMUG offers a blend of programs from marine biology to business, engineering, and liberal arts.

University of New England, Biddeford Campus – Biddeford, Maine

Distance from the beach: 0.2 miles from Freddy Beach, 0.8 miles from Hills Beach, and Ferry Beach

Type: Private, Nonprofit coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1996

Acceptance Rate: 87%

Average GPA: 3.35

ACT Range: 21-27 (test-blind campus)

SAT Range: 1040-1230  (test-blind campus)

Average Price: $36,474 / yearThere’s so much to love about the University of New England, Biddeford campus. This university shows off 4,000 feet of scenic shoreline. With over 80 extracurricular clubs and organizations to choose from, you can find so many opportunities to get involved! Biddeford offers 24 beaches within a 50-mile radius. Students love the small student-to-teacher ratios and feel like a tight-knit community.

University of California – Santa Barbara, California

Distance from the beach: 0.5 miles from depressions beach, 1 mile from Goleta Beach, and 0.8 miles from the Camino del Sur beach

Type: Public, co-ed 4 year

Year Founded: 1891

Acceptance Rate: 36.7%

Average GPA: 4.12

ACT Range: 26 – 31

SAT Range: 1355-1410

Average Price: In-state tuition  is $14,406/year, and out-of-state tuition is $44,160/year

UC Santa Barbara is a public research university surrounded by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The school has its own beach, lagoon, and rocky extension called Goleta Point (better known as “Campus Point”). The university boasts stellar athletics and academics while offering some sunshine year-round. 

Endicott College – Beverly, Massachusetts

Distance from the beach: Steps away, and the campus is oceanfront to Mingo beach

Type: Private, coed

Year Founded: 1939

Acceptance Rate: 70.4%

Average GPA: 3.55

ACT Range: 23-27 (test optional)

SAT Range: 1140-1280 (test optional)

Average Price: $35,764 / year in state and out of stateThis seaside campus offers a view like no other. You can literally feel the breeze of the ocean from your dining hall, and the campus is admired by students. More than 90% of their students live on campus, and some of the residence halls were converted to mansions. So cool!

University of South Florida – St. Petersburg, Florida

Distance from the beach: 7 miles to St Pete beach, however, is seaside in the downtown St. Pete Innovation District

Type: Public, coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1965

Acceptance Rate: 27%

Average GPA: 3.4

ACT Range: 24-29

SAT Range: 1140-1280

Average Price: $5,821 / year in state, $16,736 out of state

“Where water meets wonder”, USF’s St. Pete campus is located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, surrounded by top-notch cuisine, shopping, and beaches. Clearwater Beach and the city of Tampa are a short drive away, so you’re guaranteed to experience a spring break foreva kind of vibe, year-round.

Eckerd College – St. Petersburg, Florida

Distance from the beach: 2.1 miles from Gulfport Beach, 3.4 miles to St. Pete Beach, and is located seaside with awesome views

Type: Private, coed Presbyterian Liberal Arts college

Year Founded: 1958

Acceptance Rate: 68.6%

Average GPA: 3.46

ACT Range: 23-29

SAT Range: 1100-1270

Average Price: $48,220/yr

Ah, home sweet beach. Eckerd’s waterfront campus sits on the Gulf peninsula of Florida’s west coast and has an average temperature of 74 degrees. St. Pete has a ton of shopping, recreation, and dining options, so you’ll never be bored. Tampa is a short drive away, and some of the US’ most famous beaches are located just miles away!

Florida Gulf Coast University — Ft. Myers, Florida

Distance from the beach: Beach on campus, 25-minute drive to over 50 miles of white-sand beaches, including Ft. Myers Beach.

Type: Public, coed 4 year

Year Founded:  1991

Acceptance Rate: 77.5%

Average GPA: 3.87

Average ACT Score: 22

Average SAT Score: 1097

Average Price: $6,118 / year in state $25,162 / year out of state

Love to kayak? Ft. Myers is the perfect spot for you, nestled on the southwest coast of Florida. There are 50 miles of white-sand beaches, so naturally, you can dream of spending your entire college experience with your toes in the sand. You can explore 120,000 acres of parks and nature preserves, barrier islands, an Intracoastal waterway, mangroves, and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico filled with manatees, 245 different species of migratory birds, and bottlenose dolphins. Not to mention, the shopping and food scene is a solid setting for feeling right at home in paradise. 

Now that you’ve seen our top 10 colleges near the beach and what it takes to get in, you can think about your next moves. Hoping for a match? Download the Encourage app, perfect for college planning, and see how you stack up. 


5 Unique Careers You Could Consider

The days of being traditional when thinking about your career are over, friend. Unique jobs are uncommon by definition, but you may find your dream career by thinking outside of the box and diving into some passions that can make money. Heads up: some of these jobs require advanced education, training, or certification in order to get started. In this short read, we’ll explore some lucrative careers that you may not have heard of before.

Color Specialist

Job family: Interior Designer

What they do: If you’ve never heard of a color specialist, you’re not alone. Personal color consultants are responsible for helping people design the interior or exterior of their homes or businesses. With so many trends and possibilities, the choices can become overwhelming. That’s where a color expert comes in!

Requirements: Bachelor’s Degree, Masters are a plus

In some states, color specialists must be licensed or certified through the International Association of Color Consultants (IACC) with a membership

Skills needed: Knowledge with tablet computers/ipads and computer assisted design (CAD), photo imaging, video creation applications, creativity, artistic talent and attention to detail

Starting Salary: $60,983

Most common practice: Business owners that consult independently

Career opportunities: Interior design, graphic design, fashion, product placement and visual merchandising, product line development & retail buying, and corporate branding and consulting

Voice-Over Artist

Job family: Entertainment

What they do: If you have a unique voice, chances are, your friends have told you you should be on the radio or in a commercial. There are multiple ways someone can use their voice to build a career in a virtual environment. What do voice artists do? Duties can include reading scripts, interpreting character mannerisms, following writer prompts, changing the pitch of your voice, and portraying emotions verbally. It’s also possible to narrate projects over video content, audiobooks, and video games. This role is typically freelance.

Requirements: GED/High school diploma, with no college needed. Some pursue a bachelors in communication, broadcasting, or theater. Training is typically on the job.

Skills needed: Acting, adaptability, attention to detail, confidence and communication

Starting Salary: $31,999 starting with an average pay after experience of $33.63/hr or $71,908/yr

Career opportunities: Radio, commercials, influencers, narrations, audiobooks, video games

Cruise Ship Director

Job family: Tourism &  Entertainment

What they do: We have to be honest – this one is seemingly the most fun of our list and it requires a stark level of leadership to manage! A cruise ship director is the head of entertainment while you’re living your best life on a cruise. The director typically supervises and evaluates the performance of all cruise personnel to ensure the guests are having the best experience possible. Monitoring the guest comments and creating plans for improvements for special events and parties while aboard claims a majority of the work day. When you hear announcements over the intercoms, you’re likely hearing the voice of the cruise ship director.

Requirements: Bachelor’s degree is not required, however most directors possess a bachelors in hospitality or tourism management. A minimum of 5 years experience in an upscale hotel, resort, cruise ship and entertainment venue is required and a Master of Ceremony may be required. 

Skills needed: Strong management skills and the ability to work in a multicultural environment. Excellent verbal and written skills, and knowledge of another language(s) is a plus. Superior customer service, team building and conflict resolution skills are necessary to be successful in this role.

Starting Salary: $45,000 with an average range after experience of $56,000-$88,500

Career opportunities: Can operate a private ship or major cruise lines such as Carnival, norwegian, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and more


Job family: Personal Care

What they do: They’re like travel guides in a foreign country. No, really! Except instead of helping you cross the street or find the best place to eat, they help you cross the finish line of childbirth and bring home the baby. A birth and postpartum doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a family before, during and shortly after childbirth to help them achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.

Requirements: No formal education is required.  The doula certification is voluntary, however, clients typically will not hire a doula without a certification and training from an established organization.

Skills needed: Childbirth education, emotional support, physical assistance and care, planning, motivation, and teamwork are all skills needed to be successful in this role

Starting Salary: $40,000-$50,000. Doulas can earn a salary of up to $100,000 in a large urban city.

Career opportunities: Doulas typically work as contractors, employees, or business owners. Doulas are paid a set fee per birth or hourly. Doula work is flexible, and often on-call. Doulas are also employed in hospitals.


Job family: Chemistry

What they do: A professional taste-tester?! Sign us up. A flavorist is known for creating flavor profiles and determining ingredients. They work in a lab, using high-tech equipment to distill, extract, and blend chemicals to create a flavor and apply it to different foods. This is what you’ll describe as “artificial flavors”. To be a flavorist, you have to understand the concept and taste of natural flavors and have a well-rounded taste and smell palate for proper analysis. So next time you’re trying a new lollipop or popsicle, think of all the hard work a flavorist had to juggle so you can enjoy a tasty treat.

Requirements: Chemistry degree typically recommended, supplemented with a 5-7 year apprenticeship. 

Skills needed: Strong sense of smell and taste, recordkeeping, chemistry, and creativity

 are all skills needed to be successful in this role

Starting Salary: $50,000 to start with a potential to earn up to $200,000

Career opportunities: Major snack, candy and beverage companies and any company within the food processing industry 

If you learned something new by reading this post, follow us on social media and download our app in the app store to learn more about careers that may be a solid fit for you!

2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts

As you begin your college application process, you may decide to apply through the Common Application. The Common Application (also known as the “Common App”) is an advanced college application platform that allows you to apply to multiple colleges at once. The Common App has seven essay prompts for you to choose from.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Some of these topics are broad, allowing a chance for you to showcase your creativity and share a memorable story. This is a chance to make an impression without overloading the details. This is an opportunity to showcase your writing skills!
  • Think about your passions, skills and hobbies when writing your essays. This is a chance to show off how amazing you really are!
  • Some colleges will publish essay examples on their website, so feel free to use those as inspiration! This will help get a feel for the ways each college celebrates and exemplifies good work. PRO TIP: DON’T PLAGIARIZE.
  • Always ask for someone to proofread your content. Be sure to look out for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and tone of voice to ensure you’re conveying the right message.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2022-2023.

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Don’t forget to stay true to who you are and bring the best version of yourself into these essays! We’re cheering you on!

Be Ready for College Application Season

Chances are, when you’re starting your college applications, you may feel overwhelmed by the list of tasks required for admission. To relieve this pressure, be sure to take this process one step at a time. Here, we’ll cover some crucial steps to take to avoid burnout and imposter syndrome as you apply.

1. Stay organized

We cannot stress this enough. Some things to keep track of for person information are things like your Social Security Number, high school code, transcripts, important contacts, and logins for websites/applications. From there, you need to gather all the information about the schools you’re applying to. Are they featured on the Common App? Is there a separate link for financial aid? How about FAFSA? All good things to keep in mind when sorting through the details.

2. Create a realistic timeline

Grab a planner, notepad, ipad, or whatever helps you list out priorities and put in all your deadlines for college apps. ACT/SAT test dates, registrations, and letter of recommendation deadlines are good to track as well. By sticking to a dedicated timeline, you’ll ease the anxiety or the unknown, keeping things cool during the admissions process.

3. Character counts!

This is your time to shoot your shot and show them what you’re made of! Colleges care about more than GPAs and test score. You’ll want to jot down a list of your passions, extracurriculars, and accomplishments. These other activities and interests will give admissions a better idea of who you are as a person!

4. Pop in to see your school counselor

Your counselor is your biggest fan! Be sure to keep them in the loop about your admissions experience and don’t be afraid to ask questions and feedback on your progress. They may even be the perfect person to serve as a recommendation!

5. Ask questions

There’s a ton to think about when applying to college, and you won’t possibly know ALL the answers! Meet with family members, counselors, your favorite teachers and other support when you’re feeling lost or confused. Share your aspirations and allow them to give you some guidance – they live for that!

6. Take care of yourself!

Self-care is NON-NEGOTIABLE when going through this process. Make time for things that spark joy and boost your serotonin. Just finished an essay? Treat yourself to some coffee! Crushed the ACT? Celebrate with a visit with friends.

Breathe, recharge, and grind. The success is yours!

College Applications: Tips and Tricks

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t drop the ball on in the application process, it’s your admissions essay. Your essays are a raw reflection of your unique abilities to contribute to the institution and allows a space to tell your story. This is an opportunity to display your passions and your writing skills all in one shot.

Some colleges will have specific prompts that they want you to answer, while others will lean toward a more open prompt to tell your personal story. Either way, just be you! This isn’t a word count oriented email, so forget the fluff, ditch the thesaurus, and write from the heart!

Here are some tips for drafting up an undeniably good essay:

1. Start early

Make a map of your essay topics and jot down some ideas and deadlines. We recommend starting this process around spring of junior year or summer prior to senior year. This gives you plenty of time to craft up some good stuff!

2. Create an outline

Next, you’ll want to identify your prompts and start breaking it down into parts. Think about why the admissions team may be asking these questions and what they’re hoping to gain from your response. At this point, you’ll want to pair some personal stories with these ideas and brainstorm all the potential points you’ll want to discuss. One way to organize your thought: write a thesis and make bullet points for a beginning, middle, and end. The rest will easily fall into place.

3. Read some solid examples

Some colleges will publish essay examples on their website, so feel free to use those as inspiration! This will help get a feel for the ways each college celebrates and exemplifies good work. PRO TIP: DON’T PLAGIARIZE.

4. Brainstorm beyond the transcript

When you’re crafting your essay, imagine you’re having dinner with the admissions counselors. They’re holding your transcript and resume, so they have all the nitty gritty details of your application. This is your chance to expand on the topics that are unseen from those documents! No shame in boasting all the amazing things you’ve accomplished!

5. Stick to detailed examples

For your examples, focus on specific details that really tell your story the way you want to convey it. There’s not enough room to write your autobiography, but rather the highlights of your accomplishments. It’s okay if you feel like your topic isn’t anything revolutionary – many schools love taking simple examples and turning them into lessons! Remember, the key isn’t to wow them with your topic, but rather to showcase your writing skills in a way that paints a picture of who you really are.

6. Have people review it

If you’ve taken anything away from this article, it’s to make sure you have some trusted people read your work thoroughly and provide feedback. A good person could be your parent, counselor, or teacher. Be sure to check for grammatical and spelling errors and limit the number of people who review it to around 2 so you don’t get lost in the sauce.

With these tips, there’s no doubt you’ll crush your admissions essays. Feel proud of yourself through this process and take breaks when you’re feeling writer’s block!