Bridging the Gap (Year)

By Dr. Julie M. Hau

Gap years can equal great years. It is increasingly common to take a year off before college or between the undergraduate and graduate degrees. A gap year is spending a year or sometimes more between educational endeavors. Often students are accepted to undergraduate or graduate school and delay their entry or wait to apply. Malia Obama brought the concept back to everyday awareness in the US when she delayed attending Harvard and completed a gap year. She spent the year traveling and learning about film, a later career interest. It is common during a gap year to work, travel, or volunteer. 

With the uncertainty of life, many people are questioning, why wait until retirement to travel? Instead many are choosing more economical travel in their youth, during a gap year. A gap year can provide the opportunity to save money for school. Volunteering in your potential area of personal or occupational interest, not only builds professional experience, but it also can bring personal joy. During a gap year, work can help you determine what you are interested in studying and could be the inspiration for a college major.

In other countries, gap years are common occurrences. When I backpacked through Europe during my summer study abroad program in Scotland, I stayed at youth hostels and met people from across the world, who were traveling for a year or more. I learned that in other parts of the world gap year(s) are more the rule than the exception. I recall meeting a group of young people from Australia, who were traveling and working abroad for 2 years, before beginning college. They were shocked that more youth in the United States didn’t take time for gap years.

A gap year can provide a needed reprieve from the stress of academic rigors. Post-pandemic, many students are taking time to manage burnout, mental strain, and exhaustion by delaying their academics by a year or two. The pandemic has impacted how we learn and many of us are seeking more connection both in person and online. A gap year can be just the way to meet new people, seek new places, gain valuable work experience, and volunteer.

Make a gap year count. If you are delaying applying to college until after your gap year, think about how you can maximize the experience in ways that you can discuss in your applications. Further, working between undergraduate and graduate school provides the opportunity to gain valuable experience, which will enhance your graduate school experience and provide experiences to discuss in your graduate school admissions essay. For instance, I decided to take a gap year between my undergraduate degree in psychology, before attending graduate school in counseling psychology. During that year, I worked as a job coach and case manager as well as a support person in a group home. These experiences shaped my interest in career coaching, as collaborating with others around their work and daily life was a true joy.

If you take a year between undergraduate and graduate school, I recommend you consider activities that relate to your life and career goals. For instance, if you are considering medical school and would like to take some time between undergraduate and medical school, spend the year learning valuable skills such as Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, and become an Emergency Medical Technician, or a Nursing Assistant. Working with others as a healthcare professional will help you ascertain if working as a Physician matches your interests, goals, strengths, and values. Check out each of these and other occupations on O*net, the leading resource on jobs and labor market information.

In closing, a gap year can be the bridge between academics, work, and living the life of your dreams. So, if you are taking time between work and educational pursuits, consider a gap year! You just might build bridges to new people, places, and career spaces that shift the trajectory of your future in amazing ways.

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