Follow each week as we present step-by-step suggestions to achieve post-college success with less senior year stress.
What is a gap year?
For most students, a gap year consists of temporarily working, interning or volunteering in between college graduation and graduate school. Career advisers and employers agree that taking some time off from school can lead to valuable life experiences. According to experiential learning coordinator Geni Harclerode, “I’ve never met a student who regretted taking a gap year before beginning grad school.”
There are plenty of benefits to be gained from the experience, however, Harclerode also emphasizes that it’s important to be honest with yourself about the real reason you want to take some time off. A gap year should not be used as a buffer from the “real world” — it should be used as a time to make one-self more prepared for the “real world.” After all, if you’re thinking of taking a year off because you don’t want to go through the agony of the job search, you have to realize that the search will be waiting for you after that year, and that opportunities don’t tend to come through osmosis, you have to chase them.
What can I gain from taking a gap year?
1. Potential to explore career options- some of us didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do when we got to college and some of us still don’t know what we want to do with our lives when we finish college. The best way to solve this issue? Try something! You’ll either like it or not, and you can move on with that knowledge.
2. Opportunity to hone leadership skills- Many programs such as Teach for America and City Year offer a chance to practice real-life leadership skills, the benefits of which will last far beyond the 2-year commitment period.
3. A chance to “give back”- giving back is a great feeling and you probably won’t ever have the opportunity to devote an entire year (or two) doing it once you’ve settled down.
4. Time to travel or try something different before getting tied down- a gap year can be a great time to simply diversify yourself, to try something new and different and to become a more interesting person. You’ll have plenty of cocktail party stories to tell for the rest of your life if you spend two years in Malawi working for the Peace Corps or teaching in a disadvantaged school in Detroit.
5. Opportunity to beef up the resume and gain experience that you might not have had time for in college- many of us didn’t join as many clubs as we would have liked or participate in as many extracurricular activities. For some it was because we had too much home work, for others, there were just too many um, social events to go to. A gap year is your chance to do all the admirable things you didn’t have time to do in college. Work for a presidential campaign, volunteer in Detroit or work for a non-profit, it’s never too late to become an over-achiever.
What if I’m making the wrong decision?
Ultimately you need to be honest with yourself about your true motives for taking time off from school. Are you doing it because you’re anxious about taking the next step in your education or career? Or, have you weighed the benefits and risks and determined that taking some time to explore something different is a valuable way to spend the year?