The Gap Year: Take It Seriously and Plan Wisely

Posted by The Editors on August 23, 2011
The Gap Year: Take It Seriously and Plan Wisely

It’s that time of year when Facebook statuses run wild with statements like, “Back at school! Who’s going out?!” I admit it: I’m feeling a bit sentimental. Still, while I’m happy to be moving into the workforce while friends go back to school, many of my peers can't say the same. Rather than interviewing for their first fulltime job, recent grads are turning to a relatively new concept for Americans: the gap year.

Loosely defined as the year a graduate takes before going back to school or entering the workforce, graduates or students who choose to take a gap year might travel, intern, volunteer, or work abroad. Taking a year off has been encouraged in Europe along with other parts of the world for quite a while, and in these hard economic times, American grads have caught on.

If you do plan to take a year off before job hunting, make the year work to your advantage.

1.  Be practical
A gap year may not be a good fit or even feasible for some, so it’s important to determine the advantages and disadvantages of different options. :

  • Can you afford the trip you’re planning? The memories you’ll have from a road trip across the U.S. or backpacking trip through Europe might be worth every penny spent—but just make sure you have those pennies and a plan for when you return.
  • Organizations like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps and Teach for America can take you to new places with amazing, new challenges, but don’t just consider service programs  as a way for to postpone career-related decisions or see new places. Take them seriously. Talk to others who’ve participated in the particular program to which you’re applying for a full understanding of what can be expected, and take time decide whether you’ve got what it takes to take on the challenges.
  • If you plan to go back to grad school in the coming years, consider taking the necessary standardized tests like the GRE, LSAT or MCAT before or during your time off. Since you’re fresh out of school, you’re still in test-taking mode and will likely score better than in a few years.
  • Look into short-term health insurance options to cover yourself during this period. Then, make sure you have the funds required.

2.  Know your goalsWhy is taking a “gap year” important and what do you hope to achieve? Maybe you plan to teach English in China to develop your teaching skills while learning about Chinese culture. Or maybe you plan to volunteer with an overseas organization in order to understand and help alleviate problems third-world countries face. Interviewers love to ask these questions when they see an interesting experience on a candidate’s resume, so make sure you’re ready to answer in an intelligent way.

3.  Don’t forget about recommendations and references
Before you make a mad dash through the airport to your destination, make sure you have everything you need. And no, I’m not talking about a pack of M&Ms and a bottle of water for the trip; I’m referring to those all-important recommendations from professors or advisors. It may seem premature to line up references when you won’t be using them for a while, but it’s important to strike while the iron is hot and your hard work is fresh in their minds.

A gap year can be beneficial to a graduate’s future in many ways, but being well-prepared before, during, and after this transitional period will only make the process of re-entry easier. Don’t do yourself the disservice of going into a gap year blind. Make a plan and follow through.

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