More and more American college students are opting to take some time off between graduation and entering graduate school or the workforce. This increasingly popular trend, known as the “gap year,” allows students to choose from a wide and exciting range of pursuits, including traveling abroad, interning, volunteering or working in a foreign country. A gap year does not literally have to last a year; some students only take a couple of months off, perhaps to travel, while others elect to take a couple of years off before entering the workforce or graduate school.
There are several advantages to the gap year. It can give you valuable experience that builds your resume and sets you apart from other candidates when you are applying for a job or graduate school. If you are not sure about what career path you would like to pursue, the gap year gives you the time to set long-term career goals or select appropriate graduate programs. A paid opportunity during your gap year can allow you to save up for graduate school or work to pay off student loans. Finally, a gap year allows you unique opportunities to travel to new places, have fun and recover from the rigors of college!
Naturally, there are some practical concerns to be considered before deciding whether the gap year is right for you. Traveling abroad, if you decide to do so, can be expensive and medical and insurance costs have to be covered. Remuneration, especially for volunteer programs, can be minimal and most of the expenses may have to be covered by you. Finally, once you have left campus, access to resources can be limited, especially if you are thinking about applying for a job or to graduate school. So plan ahead–prepare your resume, get recommendations from professors and take the necessary standardized tests before you leave for the gap year.
Here are some things to think about when deciding on a gap year program:
a. Do I want a program related to my major?
b. What are my skills and interests?
c. How much time do I have?
d. How much money will I need to spend on living expenses, travel costs etc.?
e. What are my long-term plans?
f. Do I want a domestic or international position?
g. Do I want a paid or unpaid position?
It is very important to think clearly about these issues, because they can come up even after you have completed your gap year experience. Graduate school admission representatives and prospective employers will typically inquire about your gap year. Anticipate questions like, Why did you decide to take a year off? How has it improved or increased your skills? What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them? What was the best part? Be prepared to defend, vocally and in writing, your gap year experience, using compelling and specific examples.
There are several resources available to students who are trying to decide upon a gap year opportunity. The Career Center can help you indentify programs that suit your interests and goals. The Volunteer and Community Service Center (located in Raymond House) can also help you with possible volunteer programs.