Filling the Gap

 

This year’s graduating college seniors are entering their final month of college, enjoying the last few weeks of sunshine, beaches and beer. Before heading off to a career of staring at a blue computer screen and avoiding their office’s “Dwight Schrute” until work ends at 5 p.m., students must think about the prospects of life after graduating, which is especially a concern for those who don’t have every step of their lives planned out. College burnout is real, and in certain situations, it’s the right decision to take a year off before going to graduate school or immediately jumping into the job circuit.

Post-college gap years are defined as the year or two between school and “real life” when students travel the world, relax and live without the constraints of a stringent 9-to-5 schedule. This discretionary period of time is meant to be a refresher and a go-between for students who aren’t yet ready to take out more loans for graduate school or settle for a lackluster job. Gap years help take students’ minds off the monotonous grind that is associated with living midterm-to-midterm.

Of course, the value of pursuing a gap year also depends on what one wants to do with that spare time. Partying in France for a summer would be nice, but getting an internship or doing volunteer work — low-level jobs or activities that may or may not interest you — could be a more realistic route for students who don’t know the answer to the dreaded question, “What are you going to do after graduation?”

According to Dean of Admissions Asha Rangappa at Yale Law School, only 20 percent of students enroll straight out of college. Rangappa states that gap years benefit applicants because they are able to write more reflective essays once they’ve taken time off interning or working at a job that pertains to their field. With competition for graduate school admissions on the rise, gap year experience can function as a tiebreaker for those who choose to venture out of their comfort zone for a year or take a break before leaping straight into the educational system.

However, the decision rests mostly on the individual student. Not everyone has the freedom to take a year or two off, because loans — and time — are not on their side. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, roughly one in every three American students transfers from a two-year college to a four-year university. With schools overpopulated, many students take five or even six years to graduate. The decision to take a gap year remains a risky decision, and time off could be detrimental if an individual has no set career path or goals.

The second reason why students won’t take a year off is as simple as any: money. American Student Assistance states that 60 percent of students acquire debt while they attend a four-year undergraduate university. The statistic doesn’t even begin to take into account students who struggle to make loan payments at the graduate, law, business or medical school level. While numbers may be intimidating, taking a gap year can still work for students who have preexisting debt. Students who spend their gap years working can use funds from more immediate pay to help finance further education while enjoying the opportunity to gain real-world experience for their resumes.

Although jumping into something that’s socially applicable to the “real life” trope might be a difficult thing to do, it can be extremely beneficial in the long run to take a year off to do something new or different. A gap year experience can both support resume-building and set an individual apart in a competitive job market. Between choosing a hiatus from school or work in your early 20s or succumbing to one during a mid-life crisis, taking advantage of youth and freedom as a young adult is likely the wiser choice. Students with fewer personal commitments and financial constraints (i.e. having dependents or a family as a young adult), should seize the opportunity, because they may later find that a gap year is the only time to pursue their other goals or interests.

Taking a year off can work in both the short and long term, but only if graduates map out their journey and goals from that point onward. It is important to take the time to weigh all of the pros and cons of a gap year instead of delving unprepared into the uncertainties of your own future. Ultimately, the decision comes down to each individual person and not an averaged statistic derived from the masses.

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