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If you want to continue your studies, you may be torn between taking a gap year or going straight to graduate school. Read on to see some of the benefits of taking a year away from traditional education.
According to a 2015 UCLA study, only 3% of US students take a year off between high school and college. By the time most of them graduate from a 4-year university, they will have spent 17 consecutive years pursuing an education. Though it may be tempting to capitalize on this momentum, a gap year, when done purposefully, has a number of benefits. Here are a few.
Benefits of Taking a Gap Year
The final year of college can be demanding. Balancing exams, projects, internships, and final essays can be a challenge. It’s important to give these duties their due attention as they can have a big effect on future prospects— especially for those who want to continue their education. Sending materials off to graduate schools on top of these obligations will be stressful, and can eventually lead to burnout, lower grades, and low-quality work. It’s better to end your undergraduate career on a strong note and then give your applications the attention they deserve.
For those who do wish to go straight to postgrad, there are a number of hybrid BA/MA programs that allow you to work towards your Bachelors and Masters degrees at the same time. These programs follow a more streamlined process and spare you the stress of sending out applications during your fourth year of college. Check out these programs at Boston University and New York University, or talk to your academic advisor to see if your school offers something similar.
Find Your Niche
In the United States, there is a great deal of social and economic pressure to follow a prescribed path from high school, to college, to graduate school, then on to a career. Though this may work for some, it provides little room for self-reflection. This is not only an existential concern, but a practical one.
In today’s hyperspecialized work culture, there are many subdisciplines within every field. Because of this, graduate programs should be viewed as opportunities to gain expertise and to carve out a niche in your career. Taking a gap year can provide you with the space needed to explore your interests and make an informed decision before dedicating yourself to one track or another. ****
Build Professional Skills
Time off doesn’t have to be time wasted. Taking a gap year can provide you with real-world experience to build upon the skills acquired in college. Usually, the day-to-day grind of a job is far different than the theoretical skills gained at the university. Entering the workforce allows you to gain hands-on experience at entry-level positions before furthering your studies. Sometimes, the job won’t be what you expected. This can be an opportunity to switch fields, rather than getting stuck in a career track.
A gap year can also be a time for internships, volunteer work, and other forms of engagement with the community. All of these activities can be added to resumes to make your application more competitive for when you do decide to go back to school.
See the World
A gap year can be a great opportunity to travel before you have too many commitments locking you in one place. Travel can expose you to new cultures and new ways of viewing the world. These experiences can profoundly shape your values and ambitions. Even if you don’t have much of a budget, there are ways to finance your travels. Programs like Workaway, HelpX, and WWOOF provide workers with housing around the world in exchange for a few weekly hours of work on organic farms, in hostels, or in people’s homes. ****
If you’re a native English speaker, TEFL programs can help you get certified to teach English as a foreign language and set you up with language institutes around the world. You’ll gain new skills— and perhaps even a new language— through these experiences, which can help you decide what career path you’ll take moving forward.
Though continuing your higher education is important, it can be equally important to take a break from traditional education to focus on personal growth. Many come back from their gap years with new skills, new goals, and new perspectives. Despite the social and academic pressures of the modern world, taking some time for yourself to make a mindful decision regarding your future is beneficial in the long run. Just ask these people who took gap years and then went on to be successful in their fields.