Deciding whether or not you want to take a gap year after finishing your undergraduate degree, but before enrolling in a graduate or professional program, can be a very difficult choice. Being unsure about this is a part of the process and most people facing the same decision are feeling the same way, so don’t panic! This is a big choice so allow yourself to take the necessary time to consider your options. The prospect of a gap year can be really exciting, but also be sure to think about the logistics of the situation before making your final decision. Finally, don’t think of this year as putting your life on hold, think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
There are many different reasons students decide to take a gap year and all of them are valid. However, the differing motivations can also influence this decision and how valuable taking a gap year will be. For some students, taking a gap year serves as a back-up plan because they did not get into the program they hoped to and they are looking for additional professional development to become a more competitive applicant. In this case, students can be either very motivated to make the most of the year or they can be feeling discouraged and as a result don’t feel that the gap year even matters. If you fall into this group, try to check-in about how you are feeling about taking a year off and get ready to make this the best year possible, even if it was not a part of your original plan.
Other students choose to take a gap year in order to begin saving money for the graduate program they plan to enroll in. This can be a great idea, but before making this choice you should take a very realistic look at how much money you will make during the year, your expenses, and how much you will realistically be able to save. Students who are only motivated by saving money may discover that they will be able to accumulate less than they expected and decide against a gap year.
There are also individuals who are taking a gap year in order to learn new skills or find personal growth. This might mean working as a lab technician to learn additional job skills or it could mean paying your own bills for the first time without help from your parents. Depending on who you are and what experiences you are looking for, you will want to gain something unique, but overall taking a year to better yourself can be really beneficial. A gap year can also provide amazing opportunities to travel and experience new cultures which can also lead to immense personal growth.
Finally, some students choose a gap year in order to avoid burnout, without it you may be a student for 20 years without ever taking a break. Consider what a break from academia could do to your motivations. You may find that you come back refreshed and much more ready to dive into a new program.
What will you accomplish?
Before committing to a gap year you should have a good idea of how you plan to spend your time and what you need to do to secure these opportunities. Brainstorm different things you think you might like to do during the year. For example, do you want to work as a lab tech, volunteer at an international organization, or get hands-on experience in your chosen field? Consider where you could work, what connections you have, and how much money you will make. It can also be helpful to create a list of goals for the year and write down how a given job or position can help you meet these goals. Having a clear plan for the year will help make sure you get as much value from the time as possible.
Gap years can have great benefits and set you up for success as you move forward with your education and career, but it is important to set boundaries for yourself so that a gap year does not turn into a gap five years or a gap ten years. Create a timeline for your program applications so that you can be prepared and meet all deadlines. Maybe upon careful consideration, a gap year will turn into two, which is totally fine, just don’t let a lack of preparation or motivation hold you back from moving on to the next chapter of your life.
It is important that if you do decide to take a gap year, you stay connected with the network you have developed during your undergraduate career. In the future you will still need recommendations from professors and employers and you never know, a connection with a student from one of your classes could turn into a future job opportunity. LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected with people, be sure to add connections that you know and keep your profile up to date. In addition, once or twice a semester send an email update to some of your closest connections letting them know what you are doing while tying it back to your relationship and asking for updates from them as well. This is a great way to keep yourself on their minds and build lasting relationships.
Deciding whether or not you want to take a gap year can be a difficult and overwhelming decision. To ease your anxiety, try to remember that it will only be 12 months of your life and that no matter what you do, you can find ways to make your experiences worthwhile. Good luck!
Did you take a gap year? How did you decide on your path? Let us know on Twitter, @Conserisapp.