o, you’ve just graduated. Now what? You’ve worked the past four years to get here, but now that you’re here you don’t know what to do. Maybe you had a plan, but realized along the way that it wasn’t for you. Maybe, you were hoping that somewhere along your college career it would become evident exactly what you were destined to do like Cinderella finding her glass slipper – just the right fit. Or, maybe you know exactly what you want to do with your life but don’t know how to get there.
After studying in college for so long, being tossed out into the real world is scary. Now that you have a degree, people are expecting you to do big things. You’ve gotten to the end of a path and now you must choose a new one, with the implication that this will shape the rest of your life. You have to actually start paying for things, including any debts. There is a lot riding on this. Or, so it seems…
We’re here to put to bed any misconceptions. You don’t have to do extraordinary things after graduation and what you do immediately after will not make-or-break your future success. Rather, you should do what is right for you both in this moment and with your future in mind. In fact, taking a gap year before starting grad school or a career is very common. To find out if this is the next step for you - or not - keep reading.
Throughout this article, we will discuss the following:
- What a gap year is
- The pros of taking a gap year
- The cons of taking a gap year
- Questions you should be asking yourself
What Is A Gap Year?
A gap year is exactly what it sounds like – a year off. A gap year is oftentimes taken after high school, but for the purpose of this article we are referring to after college. Although coined the term “gap year,” this can be any length of time between college and starting a career or attending graduate school. Some even call it a “sabbatical year” because it is a time to engage in activities for development and growth. The gap year is really a time to get out from behind the desk, try new things, and learn by doing.
Pros of Taking A Post Grad Gap
Pro #1: A Break From Academia
If you’re currently suffering from such extreme exhaustion that you can’t even think about post-grad plans, you should really consider taking a gap year. It allows you to refresh, rejuvenate, and hit the reset button. You know that feeling you get when you come back to work after using some PTO, or when you come back to school from Winter break? Think of that, times ten. You heard me.
Being constantly stuck on overdrive can have you at your wits end. But, a little time-out is all it takes to cure a bad case of burnout. If you allow yourself to have a gap year, you could enter your career feeling energized and enthusiastic, rather than lethargic and run-down.
Pro #2: Travel Abroad
Between achieving your academic goals and chasing your career goals, you could find yourself in your older years never having lived out your dreams of traveling. Don’t let your wanderlust sit on the back burner. When you’re in graduate school, a full time job, or starting a family, you won’t be able to just pick up and explore other countries. Not yet being committed to a set future offers you this luxury and we recommend you take it. Actually, we advise it.
If you find yourself unsure about your future, you may just be able to find yourself by losing yourself in another country. Not to mention, traveling and meeting people unlike yourself is an enriching and fulfilling experience. You may just come home with a fresh perspective, a greater sense of your identity, and an experience to share with college admissions officers and job interviewers. Eat, pray, love your gap year.
Pro #3 A Chance to Explore Different Careers
You’re supposed to choose a major which will determine your degree and in theory, your lifelong career, right out of high school. Sure, you can change your major and then change it again. But, even coming out of college, it can be hard to know what you want to do without having ever… well, done it.
This is specially true with the pandemic limiting students’ opportunities to shadow employers and get involved in a field setting. So, if you’re about to graduate and don’t know what you would like to do – welcome to the club. The good news is, despite the pressure you may be receiving from family members, you don’t need to have all of the answers. Right now, “I don’t know” is perfectly acceptable. That’s where we come in.
Instead of blindly pursuing another degree or a career because it’s what you feel like you should be doing, or because someone convinced you of it, do what feels right. Follow what interests you. Apply for jobs, programs, internships, anything that sounds like something you would like to do. This will help you refine your interests. Work at a museum, an airport, a daycare, a bar, a warehouse, a care taking facility, anywhere in the world that you want.
There is an immense supply of gap year jobs available. Just, take notes. If you start working in sales and find that you don’t like it. Ask yourself: why didn’t I like it? Was it the job itself, the company culture, or the work environment? Use what you discover to guide your next job choice. It’s a process of trial and error, but ultimately it will get you to where you want to be. Take your time finding what suits you rather than barreling into something that you’ll later regret.
Pro #4: You Need Time To Prepare For Your Next Step
Gap years are often used preparing for graduate school or a career. It can be hard to squeeze in everything admissions offices and job recruiters require all while passing your classes. For instance, the applications for medical school, law school, and PhD programs are rigorous and time consuming. You don’t want to save these for the last minute and then rush on them. You’ve already spent four years educating yourself in preparation, what is another year if it means turning in a quality application and being prepared for an interview?
The same goes for any standardized test you may need for graduate school:
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
You’ll have a break once you’ve graduated to study for these and achieve the score you want instead of trying to cram while you’re taking classes.
If you’ve discovered your passion later in your college career and your courses don’t align with what is needed for admission or a job offer, there is no better time than a gap year to pickup those extra courses. If it’s really what you’re interested in, don’t settle for something else because you’re not accepted right out of school. Another reason to take classes in your gap year is if you want to get a better grade. You may find this easier to achieve when it’s your only course and you can give it your full and undivided attention.
Perhaps, you have the grades, the courses, and the standardized test, but what you’re missing is extracurriculars and experience outside the classroom. This is the fun part. There are a plethora of gap year programs for volunteer work from the U.S. to Fiji supporting a wide variety of causes. All you have to do is find a cause that interests you and a place you would like to go. If you don’t want to travel, no problem. There are local organizations that love to take on fresh graduates as paid interns, teachers for young children, camp counselors, and tutors.
If you’re concerned with healthcare you could work in a patient care setting or a care facility to expand your knowledge and get a taste of what is in store for your future. The big takeaway here is that meaningful experience is available if you look for it.
Cons of Taking A Post Grad Gap
Con #1: Your Gap Year Could Turn Into Years
As we mentioned earlier, the gap year has some wiggle room. You can call your 6 month break or 2 year break a gap year. But, it’s probably best not to let your 1 year gap turn into 6 years. A gap year should be a productive time in your life that helps prepare you and teach you. If you’re the type of person that feels that a post grad gap could make you lose your momentum and drive, then a post grad gap probably isn’t the best decision for you.
You don’t want to lose sight of why you took the gap in the first place and get too comfortable with putting off your goals. For example, if you’re someone who finds that they need lots of structure in your life, this may not be the right choice for you. Gap years take you off of the traditional path, and you may find it difficult to get back on.
Con #2: You Don’t Spend Your Time Wisely
People are often concerned as to how gap years are perceived by admissions offices and employers. The short answer is: it depends how you spend it. You could go in there and tell them that you spent your time working odd jobs, traveling, and volunteering only to have it bring you back to your original passion: social work. Or, you could go in and tell them that during the two years since you’ve graduated all you have done is move back home and work a minimum wage job that you have little interest in. See the difference? A gap year is only as valuable as the way you spend it.
That doesn’t mean that you have to do something insanely glamorous. But, if you always had veterinary school in the back of your head, see about visiting your local vet office and asking to shadow, volunteer, or even work the front desk just to get your foot in the door. If you aren’t spending your grad gap time doing things that enable you to learn, grow, and expand upon your interests then employers and schools may perceive you to be unmotivated.
Considerations Before You Take A Post Grad Gap
- Where do I see myself in 5 years?
- How will this post grad gap contribute to these goals?
- Do I have the drive to make a post grad gap worthwhile?
- Do I usually follow through on my plans even if it may be challenging to do so?
- Will I do my research, plan, and apply?
- How much money do I have saved up?
- How much money will I be spending?
- When is my grace period for paying my student loans up?
- If I don’t have the money to travel, am I willing to apply for a program that pays for room and board in exchange for volunteer service? (e.g., Peace Corps, Help Exchange Worldwide)
- Do you plan to pay off your degree before pursuing another one?
- What is your goal for your gap year?
- Do you prefer to pay things upfront or over time?
- How long do you want your gap to be?
- How much money do you need to be making and saving?
- How do you plan on balancing experiences that build your resume with experiences that pay the bills?
A post grad gap is not for everyone. But, if used the right way, it can be an amazing experience and the perfect next step. Before you make your decision, do some self-reflection, evaluate your situation, explore potential options, and don’t let other people coerce you into your decision no matter how well-intentioned. This is something only you can decide for yourself. If anything, re-read our guide or consult someone who has been through the experience. Your university may have additional resources about the post grad gap.
Congratulations on being a college graduate! We know that whatever you choose you’ll go great!