Return of the Gap Year
That’s right, there are two.
By Karen Juarez, University of Illinois at Chicago
Gap years, more commonly known as the resting period high school graduates take before entering college, are becoming more frequent amongst college graduates.
After graduating high school, the choice to attend college is a daunting one, especially for undecided students, so taking a year to chew things over makes a lot of sense. However, gap years are becoming just as necessary for college graduates, because they’re in the same position as high school graduates. In fact, if you’ve found yourself thinking “What’s next?” in the last few months, you might be in the need for a gap year yourself.
So, if you’re heading in the direction of a gap year, here are five things to do after graduation and before grad school.
1. Reflect on Your Schooling
So you have a degree now, but what do you plan on doing with it? Did you enjoy your time in undergrad? If you’re not content with the answer, maybe it’s time to rethink graduate school.
I’m not saying you should so easily scratch out grad school, but thinking through why you want a graduate degree isn’t a bad idea. Would a master’s in something help you reach your career goals, or are you just going back to school because you don’t have anything better to do?
After talking to multiple professors and teaching assistants at a graduate school information session, the best advice I received was to think everything through and be passionate about your field of study. Although change is difficult, people do switch their field of study in graduate school sometimes. Sometimes students find that they didn’t like their original field, and other times their career goals went in a different direction. The school you choose can totally differ too, and you may find the change suits you. At this point, it’s not out of the ordinary to attend a different school than you did for undergrad.
2. Earn Some Money
Your new degree (most likely) just cost you money, lots of money. Taking a gap year can provide you the chance to pay off debts, or maybe just get back on your feet. Maybe you don’t have any debt; either way, if you take a year off and work, you can save some money up for grad school. Because, yes, if you thought undergrad was expensive, grad school will make you cry and formally apologize for calling your bachelor’s costly.
Especially if you’re one of the people who is sinking in student loans, or if you want to be financially prepared for the cost of a master’s, working an entire year can go a long way. Plus, if you happen to land a salaried job, the opportunity provides both real-world experience and a way to pay off the thousands you borrowed.
3. Relax, Seriously
If you have no idea what you would even do during a gap year, the answer is simple: Do everything you ever wanted to do. Travel, go places, start working out, enjoy days without the stress of having homework. You’ve been going to school for seventeen years (or maybe eighteen), so if you’re twenty-two or twenty-three, then you’ve spent about two-thirds of your life on education. If anything, you owe yourself the chance to relax and live a little.
There’s never been a better time to explore things you always wanted to do. Even if you do take up work within your gap year, be nice to yourself. Spend time on yourself, and let it be the year you finally learn to swim, or dance or maybe just nap a little more. I’m sure there were many nights you didn’t sleep during undergrad, so catching up on sleep won’t hurt.
4. Prepare for a Professional Program
Although professional programs, such as medical school, law school or pharmacy school, are something that you might have prepared for during undergrad, applying to schools can still be difficult. Often the undergrad courses for majors associated with these programs are rigorous, and it’s difficult to study for the MCAT/LSAT/ PCAT while balancing classes.
Although the schedule is to take the tests the summer between junior and senior year of college, it may be more helpful to take the exams during your gap year. Especially if your GPA or other areas of your application are lacking, a high score on qualifying exams can be a game changer, maybe even leading to some scholarships.
Plus, because of how demanding they are, professional programs can be very stressful. If for one reason or another your life is falling apart at the moment, or you don’t feel committed to excruciating work, putting off school for another year won’t hurt. The programs also boast a very high cost, so if you’re not ready to go 200K in debt just yet, it’s okay to put school off for a year, or a few.
Professional degrees might also be a one-and-done deal. They may be something you cannot take breaks between; you might just have to go to school without semesters off, so it’s best to research schools and think the decision through. Gap years can be of help there.
5. Enjoy Some “You” Time
Maybe you’re taking a gap year because you don’t want to do shit, or maybe you plan on being productive. There are other aspects of your life, such as dating, work, hobbies or just a sense of direction, that you may consider lacking. A year to work on your diet, your spiritual life or just get a hint of what you want to do with your life can be a big help. Work abroad, volunteer or just do something out of character. Shit, maybe even move out or get a new car. You don’t have to be trapped in the same boring routine of school.
Whether you decide to take a gap year or not, the decision all comes down to your personal goals (or lack thereof). Humans don’t all follow the same formula, so, as a result, everyone is moving through life differently.
Maybe you’re like me and you never considered a gap year until recently, or maybe you feel that if you take one, you’ll be wasting time. Either way, I hope you find peace within yourself and know that taking a gap year between undergrad and graduate school is okay. In such a fast-paced world, millennials all need a little down time, and taking a year off may be something you can grow from.