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NBC News' Tom Costello: Taking A 'Gap Year' Before College Changed My Life

Taking time off between high school and college may not be traditional, but for some students, a "gap year" is exactly what they need to succeed.
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A pedestrian walks through the Georgia Tech campus aon March 11, 2016, in Atlanta. David Goldman / AP

Taking time off between high school and college may not be the traditional route most students take, but for some, a "gap year" is exactly what they need to succeed.

That was true for NBC News correspondent Tom Costello, who took a year off before college that changed his life.

Costello was going to go to a college in the Midwest and major in pre-med. But in his senior year of high school, he got what he calls a "phenomenal opportunity" to join Up With People, a non-profit that offers young people service opportunities through arts and music.

Costello spent a year playing guitar with a band in cities across the country, fulfilling a "dream."

Traveling made him realize two things: One, he loves places that offered great skiing, and two, that pre-med major he had planned might not be the right career path after all.

Related: Why Students May Not Consider Taking A 'Gap Year,' But Should

So Costello applied to the University of Colorado Boulder — with some help from his mom, who filled out his application for him while he was touring North America — and got in.

"I did have a little bit of a struggle making the adjustment from Up With People to college because I had really been very independent for a year, traveling around," he said. "Suddenly here I am in a dorm, in a really confined space, very regimented life. Your'e going to class all day."

Special report: Get tips and advice about college at College Game Plan

But it was all worth it in the end.

"For me, the gap year was a big year of growing up, and I changed profoundly," he said.

Another benefit? One of the other Up With People members introduced Costello to the woman who would eventually become his wife.

"If it weren't for that gap year," he said, "I would not be where I am today. I certainly would not be in network news, and I certainly wouldn't be married to this wonderful lady."