Navigating the job market as a recent graduate or young professional can be difficult. You have to deal with all of the unique challenges that the world has given us in 2021— a depressed job market due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unpredictable nature of in-person work, higher education coursework taking place predominantly online, and high rates of student loan debt combined with stagnating wages. And of course, as someone still early in your career, you also have to deal with these challenges without the financial security or professional network that seasoned professionals already have in place.
All of this can leave you in a fragile, confused state when it comes to your career and education choices. Should you enroll in a four-year college or wait? Is community college or a vocational training program a better fit? Should you continue straight into graduate school or take time off?
One potential solution is to take a gap year, which is a year-long break in your education, to pursue other goals. A gap year can be an excellent way to get clarity on your education and career goals while still spending your time purposefully! However, like anything, it's essential that you consider the pros and cons of taking a gap year and that you go in with a plan for how you're going to spend your time productively.
This article will explore some more information about taking a gap year and discuss some of its advantages and disadvantages.
Gap Year 101:
Who can take a gap year?
Anyone can take a gap year, provided they have the resources to provide for themselves during that time. There is no official gap year program that you need to involve yourself with to take one. However, if you're studying at a university, community college, or training program, you should make sure to get permission to re-enroll once your gap year is finished, and speak with a guidance counselor to make sure you can still graduate on schedule.
When can I take a gap year?
There are no official requirements as to when you can take a gap year, but for most people, it means taking a year off of school, either after you graduate from high school or college, before you continue with your education, or search for a full-time job in your chosen field. Sometimes, people decide to take a gap year in the middle of their four-year degree.
People have taken gap years in the middle of a four-year degree. While it's historically been less common, so have global pandemics. It's important to note that a gap year isn't just "taking time off" in an ambiguous way; it's intentionally setting aside time to pursue your goals.
What are some reasons you might choose to take a gap year?
Volunteering is a great way to impact your community and fight for causes you believe in. But if you're busy with work or school, you might not have the kind of time to devote to it that you'd hope. Volunteering can be a great way to spend your time during your gap year, primarily if you volunteer with an organization that is somehow related to your career and life goals.
If you want to see the world, a gap year can be an excellent opportunity to travel. Of course, travel is expensive, so if you're on a budget, you might want to consider lower-cost options like WWOOFing or working as an au pair in a foreign country.
Though education is a vital part of personal development, the importance of work experience cannot be understated either. Employers appreciate new graduates who have significant work experience already (have you ever heard the joke about looking for entry-level talent with 2+ years of experience). If you don't think you're qualified to get a job in your field yet— don't worry. A job doesn't have to be relevant to your dream career to teach you about hard work, responsibility, customer service, and professionalism. Like volunteering, work experience could also lead you to consider a career you might not have thought of before.
Save money for education or other goals
Education costs are at an all-time high here in the United States. Suppose you're hoping to save money and reduce your future student loan debt (wise choice!); one way to do that is take a year off and work to save money for living expenses during school. Even if you're not worried about how to afford school, the money you save during your gap year could be used for other things, like saving up to buy a car or paying for travel post-graduation.
Clarity in career or life goals
Let's face it— if you're a recent graduate, you probably have a plan for your future career, but sometimes the only way to truly make up your mind is to experience things firsthand. Maybe you've always planned to go into medicine, only to find out that hospitals make you feel anxious and uneasy. Taking some time in the middle of your education to get hands-on experience can give you clarity before you make permanent choices about your education.
Alternative work experiences
A gap year can be a great time to try out alternative work experiences that might otherwise not fit in your career plans. If you have to spend your summers working for financial reasons, you could make time for an unpaid internship during a gap year. Or you could try out a vocational training program where you learn the basics of a trade, like a culinary program or auto maintenance. If you're feeling unsure about the typical "9-to-5" path that a four-year degree typically leads to, this might be a good option for you.
Alternative educational opportunities
There are many vital work and life skills that you don't generally learn when enrolled in a four-year school. For example, if you know you want to study public health, but you also know that coding skills will be helpful in your future public health research, a gap year could be the perfect time to take a course or training program in this area! Often, the focused nature of university study leaves you with little time to explore interests or skills that might be beneficial to you. If enrolling in a training program sounds unappealing, the internet is full of resources to teach yourself everything from coding to oil painting.
What are some things to consider before taking a gap year?
Not everyone can afford to take a gap year, especially if you're thinking about one of the less profitable ways to spend that time, like traveling, paying for courses or training, or accepting an unpaid internship. If you're considering taking a gap year, make sure you have a plan for your finances that year.
Long term plans
A gap year can be a great option if you're looking for more clarity on your long-term career and life goals. At the same time, it's not a great idea to go into it with no plan for where you're going after the year is over. You can't underestimate the power of momentum when it comes to education. If you're planning on returning to school after your year is up, make concrete plans and ask your friends and family to hold you accountable.
Any time you spend doing one thing is time you could be spending doing something else. Take a moment to think about your plans for your gap year. Is this the best way you could be spending your time, according to your own goals and values? If yes, then you can move forward with confidence.
Now that you've considered some of your gap year options, you are ready to evaluate your situation and make a decision! Best of luck. If you decide you're interested in learning to code during your gap year, you can find out more about our Graduate Accelerator Program and the courses we offer here.