The ultimate question: should you go straight to graduate school or take some time to figure out what you want?
For people who have been in school since you were five, the idea of finishing college in four neat semesters and continuing on to grad school right after college might feel like the obvious choice. That’s not for everyone.
If you have a pit in your stomach that’s telling you that that’s not right for you, that you need to do something else for a year, semester, or summer, that’s normal. It’s where a gap year comes in.
Maybe you heard interesting travel stories from friends who took a gap year, maybe you know you need a break from college life, or maybe the travel bug has finally gnawed enough at you that you’re ready to hit the pause button and travel the world.
The school-to-work-to-retirement blueprint may appear like the natural progression of life, but disrupting the conveyor belt during college or before grad school is a great way to find out who you are and what you want during these major life transitions.
If you’re ready to get a taste of the world, taking a gap year before grad school shows signs of independent thinking, self-motivation, and is a great subject to bring up during a job interview.
Going through college or starting grad school feeling burnt out or aimless can be a recipe for disappointment. This phase of your education is all about maximizing your knowledge and feeling excited about putting it to use in the future. While taking a year off might not be everyone's cup of tea—taking a semester or summer off can be just the rejuvenation you need to succeed in college or grad school later on.
Perhaps you are two or three years into college and have found your true calling just yet. Or you have just completed your bachelor's degree, and you don’t want to head straight to grad school. Rushing through your education could be a counterproductive decision, making you more exhausted, less focused, and leaving you to start your career in that state. Instead, taking a quick break from academics can give you some space to explore your options more profoundly, discover your interests, and build on your strengths.
If you are planning to take a gap year and make room for personal growth, here are some tips on how you can make the most of this time to reignite your passions and bring excitement back into your life.
Exposing yourself to new cultures and experiences broadens your mind, introduces you to new ways of life, and improves your cross-cultural communication. Even at home, you’re constantly meeting people with different cultural identities, sometimes it takes a trip farther away to realize how useful this skill will be on your own campus. By visiting new destinations, you might just find out how you’d like to make your mark in your career, how to communicate in another language, and become a global citizen.
Even with the best intentions, volunteering can sometimes go awry and hurt a community more than it helps. This is why service learning is imperative—it’s a philosophy that combines educational objectives with hands-on experience as a vehicle to help you become a better global citizen. The key is that you take a community or NGOs lead and support them in their ongoing process.
Whether it’s through a gap year program, a non-profit or NGO, or your local kitchen soup, service learning shows dedication, compassion, and commitment—all of which are extremely valuable in your grad school and job applications. No matter the project length, a volunteer project is a gap year experience that can assist a community in achieving their goals and help you gain skills that you can apply to your future career and personal life. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and have experiences you wouldn’t have in your normal life.
It’s hard to cram time for internships into just the summers between academic years. Prioritizing valuable work experience will give you an advantage in future job applications and help you determine which aspects of your prospective field are interesting to you. With so many excellent candidates competing for jobs, there is a strong emphasis on gaining a cross-cultural perspective, which is an especially helpful skill when applying for international companies both at home and abroad.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of such internship programs is gaining hands-on training in your field and adjacent ones. You will gain unique insight into the realities of workplaces environments and the ability to make an informed decisions about your career before committing to grad school.
It feels counterproductive to take time off from school and then take classes, but hear us out. There are some classroom experiences you can’t have in those traditional classrooms, like immersive language learning in another country or coursework that isn’t offered by your school. Using this time to enhance your skills and broaden your interests can change the course of your life and look excellent on your job and grad school applications.
Of course, traveling the world and living on your own will be life-changing, but it’s a game-changer academically too. Students who take gap year have been shown to GPAs compared to students who chose not to take the time off. This is because a gap year helps you incorporate your time abroad, volunteer work, internships, work experience and your passion projects into your studies. It also helps you gain maturity.
You will have so much more to contribute to your class discussions. A gap year can inspire brilliant new ideas for your term papers and research projects too. Not only does a gap year contribute to higher grades, more leadership positions, and a faster graduation rate, it also helps unlock your creativity in unexpected ways. It just help you uncover exactly what you need to thrive academically.
A gap year is all about getting the right balance between time spent and benefits gained. Taking a break during college or before grad school urges you to stop and embrace adventure. It provides the perfect opportunity to clarify your direction in life and your education, all while you catch your breath.
It allows you to explore and discover your many interests and get a better hold of adult life so you can be more prepared that your peers. Whether you dive into volunteering, learning a new language, or experiencing different cultures around the world, a gap year provides a unique and immersive learning experience, completely set apart from what you can learn in college or grad school.
If you still fall neatly into the 18-22 year old category, take a look at our gap year programs. EF Gap Year sets you up for academic and career success with global internships, service learning opportunities, and language skill-building all over the world.
Helen, seasoned traveler and EF Gap Year alum, offers her advice on how to live in the moment while traveling abroad—advice that she practiced personally…