Monday, October 10, 2011

the gap year

It's no secret that finding a job, even with a college diploma in hand, is tough. That's why I often encourage recent college grads to consider a "gap year."

The term "gap year" usually describes the time that high school students take before enrolling in a college or university (also something I recommend and will likely touch upon in a future posts.) But given the current economic landscape the "gap year" shouldn't be reserved for the 18 year old. In fact, it's not a bad idea for the recent college grad as well.

Why a gap year?
  1. If  you're a college graduate you may still lack the skills and experiences which many employers need.
  2. Though the college experience may have given you a better idea of who you are you may not know what to do with your life. 
  3. And finally, the number one answer to why a gap year...because you can. That's right. This might be one of the few opportunities in your life to work without the burden of significant responsibility. Five years post-graduation you are much more likely to have people (a partner, children, aging parents etc.) that depend on you. But at this time in your life, you likely have fewer ties that bind.
But what would I do for a whole year?
During the year, you should accomplish three goals. Let's call them the "triple threat."

Experience
This is your chance to get the skill-set you're lacking. Even if you have to wait tables so you can start paying off those college loans, find something that will give you valuable professional experience.  

Expand
Expand your professional network. Make a list of everyone you know and make note of what they do, then start sending emails and setting up appointments. Meet with someone new every week. Even if you're not  interested in what they do, find out why they do it and how they got where they are today. The goal is to further define your own aspirations and eventually break into the job market. Google "informational interviewing" for some insight into the questions worth asking.

Explore
I don't care how many diversity courses you took in college, chances are there is still a lot of the world you don't know anything about. Take this year to explore. If you have the resources to travel, then absolutely that's what you should do. But even if you can't travel you should start seeing your home town through different eyes. Visit schools, clinics and shelters. Volunteer at the VA or the food pantry. Go to foreign language films, dance concerts, and heritage events. Attend service at the local mosque, synagogue, catholic cathedral and buddhist temple. Be vegan for a week. Do whatever you can, to explore different cultures, ethnicity, lifestyles, and faiths in an effort to broaden your world view.

Where do I start? 
There are a few organizations that really specialize in the gap year (or years) experience. City Year and Teach for America are two examples. Or maybe you want to spend some time abroad, in which case teaching English through something like the Jet Programme might be an option. But even if it has to be something closer to home, the point is to give yourself at least one year to do something you'll likely never give yourself permission to do again.