The Pros & Cons of a Post-Grad Gap Year

By Lauren Joffe for The Real College Guide

Thinking of taking a year off after graduation and before heading into the workplace or grad school? No, we’re not talking about a break to slouch on the couch. We’re talking about a gap year: Europeans do it all the time, taking some well-spent time for themselves after receiving a degree. While gap years are less common in the United States, more and more students are carving out time to travel, volunteer, teach — anything to reboot before entering the “real world.” Here, we get the pros and cons from recent grads who’ve done it.

The Pros of Taking a Gap Year

Pro No. 1: It puts the world in your hands.
Should you choose to take a post-graduation gap year, there are infinite opportunities that will take you anywhere in the world:

Travel: Opting to tour Prague, Hungary, Poland and Vienna is an inexpensive way to see Eastern European sites — without breaking the bank. The exchange rates are more tolerable than that of the Euro.

Teach Abroad: If teaching English abroad is more your speed, American grads travel all around the globe to instruct international youngsters. If you’d prefer to stay on U.S. soil, teaching programs such as Teach for America place applicants in low-income schools around the country.

Study Abroad: Stephen Snyder graduated from the University of Michigan in spring 2010 and is now an alumni ambassador for the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS). CLS enables current students and recent grads to study for approximately two months at an overseas institution in one of 13 languages deemed critical for United States diplomatic, trade or security purposes.

Says Snyder: “For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit a country to which I never otherwise would have been. CLS was an unparalleled opportunity to build up foreign language skills by immersing myself in a foreign country. … Not to mention, it was a fully covered scholarship, so I was lucky enough to not have to pay any expenses out of my own pocket.”

Volunteer Abroad: Government programs such as the Peace Corps offer opportunities to work and learn in 77 developing countries.

Not sure where to start? Here are some great resources:

  • Peacecorps.gov
  • GoAbroad.com
  • CLScholarship.org
  • JETProgramme.org (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program)
  • TeachForAmerica.org
  • ISVOnline.org (International Student Volunteers)

Pro No. 2: It amps up your resume.

Taking a gap year can make your resume more attractive, especially if your gap year plan leads you toward a relevant career goal. That extra experience will position you as a well-rounded candidate — giving you an edge over your competition in the applicant pool.

However, Snyder warns, “Make sure that, if you spend two months partaking in professional development, you have a clear plan to integrate it into your career. For example, going abroad to develop an intermediate knowledge of Chinese might not help you if your career plan is wildly unrelated.” If it is related, “by living and breathing a foreign language, you build up a unique skill set that sets you apart from other candidates on the job markets,” says Snyder.

It is important to keep in mind why you’ve chosen a particular career path. Ask yourself: What are my main objectives? What do I want to accomplish, and to what do I want to contribute my time? If you graduated with a degree in marine biology, say, perhaps an eco-travel tour is more your speed — and more conducive to your career goals.

The Cons of Taking a Gap Year

Con No. 1: It’s all about the Benjamins.
While taking a gap year certainly has its perks, it’s only feasible with financial support for costs such as airfare, transportation, food, visas, etc. If you’re graduating with debt and little to no savings (like most of us), securing support can make or break your travel plans.

Emma Rose, a New York University veterinary student of the class of 2009, was interested in working with professional vets in a developing country, but the programs she found cost thousands of dollars — plus airfare. “It didn’t make sense to lay out more money when I currently owe money,” says Rose.

However, there are options for cash-strapped young adults of Rose’s mindset. The Peace Corps, for example, provides volunteer opportunities for little to no personal expense. Do some thorough research before deciding you can’t afford to take a gap year.

Con No. 2: It puts a damper on networking at home.
In a tight job market and an even tighter economy, recent grads are having trouble finding jobs even months into the search process. Professionals assert that networking is one of the more successful ways to land that first job. But for students taking a gap year, networking opportunities can be slim to none.

Being abroad without an Internet connection in a developing nation or not being able to commit to a casual meet-and-greet can bring some students one step back in the job-hunting process.

Says Snyder: “I could not enter the job market right away, which is a big disadvantage. Companies are hiring in the springtime, right when school lets out — not in mid-August, when I returned from Azerbaijan and when most companies are on slow schedules with many managers taking time off.”

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com/tboyan.

22 comments
rain_bows
rain_bows

I plan on obtaining a Masters degree in Cognitive psychology but am currently applying to programs to teach English abroad. Cognitive psychology involves learning about attention, language, memory and perception so in my case teaching English abroad would have many benefits whenever I apply for graduate school. 

Any Lab Test Now Franchise
Any Lab Test Now Franchise

What if after graduation you have big job? Opportunities only happens once. But having a break after graduating is a great experience in life. But not in real life.

Calvin Yue
Calvin Yue

Post-Grad post year is unquestionably a good experience to have. However, its benefits not only depends on what you want to do in your future, but also how opportune it is. For example, in my case, I want to pursue music in college and graduate school. Post-grad experience would not help my chances of getting a performing position, whether it be a symphony orchestra, band, or even professor at a university, because, after graduate school, the only way I could learn more about performing is by actually competing in the already-competitive job market. On the other hand, if I decided to do music education, and teach in secondary education, I could benefit significantly more from that, because it would show me what I would be dealing with, and be more prepared for the situation, when I start my job. As a conclusion, post-grad year is usually beneficial, but not in every situation. #S2C

Jessica Thomas
Jessica Thomas

I never thought much about taking a break after graduating, but I can definitely see the benefits of doing so. Traveling and going abroad are things that everyone should do, especially someone who is fresh out of college and in need of a new scenario. Exploring other countries is a way of learning about different people and yourself. Many individuals regret that they didn't study abroad after they graduated and began their careers, so it's definitely something to take advantage of when you can. Employers really love to see students who have studied abroad as well because they have more cultural experience. They have set aside their customs to learn someone else's and that's always a learning and typically, positive experience. Money however, always plays a factor when considering travel and with college students already dealing with their debts,traveling would only put them in more of a financial flux. Establishing connections after graduation is also essential in getting yourself in the job market, which is hard to do from miles away. I do think that taking a gap year may be too extreme for someone just graduating; a 1-2 week vacation would be nice. I think it is unlikely for most people to be able to participate in doing something like that, realistically. #S2C

Michelle
Michelle

I am currently doing a summer study abroad in Australia and I have met at least 15 students from around the world who are traveling while taking a gap year. None of them, however, are from the States. When asked what made them decide to take the year off to travel, two girls from Denmark explained to us that "it's just what you do." In terms of finances, I think another factor is that attending university in countries besides the United States is often significantly less expensive, which leaves less financial strain on students who want to take a gap year to travel or anything else. #S2C

CHUKWUNONSO ARINZE
CHUKWUNONSO ARINZE

I do not think taking a break is advisable for one who plans to go to grad school. I believe going to grad school straight away saves you time. It motivates you, since you know your going in early. It also puts you on track with the post graduate program because the material from your undergraduate studies remain fresh in your memory. #S2C

Alex Nowakowski
Alex Nowakowski

It's like a distant dream of mine to take a gap year and travel, so this article was very informative when it comes to making my final decision! I'm only sophomore right now, but traveling, volunteering or teaching abroad just seems like the better fit for me. And who knows, maybe I'll even get a job offer overseas and won't have to come back - you never know! Graduating with a degree with the states looks better over there anyway! Thanks for the great article. #S2C

Jason Baxter
Jason Baxter

This article immediately caught my eye. I don't have any set plans or grad schools in mind currently. A gap year seems like a very proactive way to set things in to place for me. I liked how it gave both the pros and cons. Traveling around the world and volunteering looks glamorous, but incorporating it into a future goal and considering expenses are necessary to the process. Very uplifting and down to earth advice. With the right planning, these opportunities seem possible and practical. #S2C.

Patricia Woodward
Patricia Woodward

Great insight. Taking a gap year can really help one center by not rushing from a fast paced school year into a fast paced career. For me, the benjamins are the number one issue in considering a gap year. A year long vacation can become expensive without a trust fund. Still, some of the opportunities pay - although not as much as a regular gig. The experience of working for the substance rather than the pay is liberating. It makes one look beyond the surface ideas of what pays most into what means most. On another hand, pay is meaningful... #S2C

Karina Hamamouche
Karina Hamamouche

I really enjoyed reading this article. After spending a summer in France, studying the language and culture, I can see how a gap year would be extremely informative for students wishing to attend grad school. For people who are worried about the financial costs and/or time commitments, why not try just a summer program? Because I have already lived in France I will probably not take a gap year, although I would LOVE to go back! #S2C

Mia Haney
Mia Haney

I think it would be great to travel and take a break. However I am the type who wont rest until I finish graduate school right away. I find that when I am on break I forget a lot of important things I learned in school. If I choose volunteer work that has to do with Psychology, I may learn a lot. I cannot at this point afford to travel because I must keep a steady job,but if there is a will, there is a way and I will look into it. I know that if I do this it would look wonderful on a job resume. Perhaps I can volunteer with a non profit organization for the summer. I am glad this article came to my attention!

Kayla April
Kayla April

it makes sense for those that really feel the need to go out and explore more options before they get stuck with one job, but i personally would not do it because the purpose of me going to college and graduation is to get a good paying career that i would love.

Lisa
Lisa

One thing that I have noticed is that many people when they take a break from school, it is extremely hard for them to find their way back. This is especially true when they take a break from anything considered educational. I will be honest that I had a friend who took a break from high school. I will not get into details, but it ended up with her dropping out. Don't worry I know she is working hard to find what she thinks is right for her. As for taking off after graduating college, I fully support that idea. I am not sure what is going to happen after I graduate, but I know that if I do not get a job or if I cannot get into grad school, I want to make something of myself. I think volunteering will be the perfect example. Ok, with that plan I will still be living with my parents, but I am getting out there creating a name in my field. Most importantly i am doing something that helps me and other people and/or animals. Volunteering my also lead to a full-time job. So, in that aspect depending on what the job position is, you shouldn't worry about whether you are hurting your chances of finding a paid job. I do agree that by volunteering you are improving your resume and creating a better chance for yourself to get exactly what you went to school for. Thank you for the article I enjoyed reading about the pros and cons. #S2c

Christina Brinkman
Christina Brinkman

Upon seeing the title of this article I was immediately interested and excited to read it. As a to-be college sophomore, I have been seriously considering taking a gap year after I graduate. I have previously considered the pros mentioned and Con No. 1, but Con No. 2 was a new idea to me. However, my biggest question about a gap year concerns medical school. I will hopefully be accepted into a medical school in about a year and I am curious whether my acceptance would still stand after a year of travel and/or volunteering, if my experiences and services abroad pertained to my career. This article was a great find though and has good ideas for people who are thinking about a gap year! #S2C

Elena Novak
Elena Novak

This is certainly a potentially wise idea! I've heard this from many adults who did it, and they really appreciated the time to regroup before going through more years of schooling. I like the suggestions of traveling to countries where the exchange rate is decent or where English teachers are needed. It's a feasible way of preventing putting out too much money. I'm thankful I don't have to worry about loans. Overall, I will spend some time considering this option when I graduate! #S2C

Karlanna
Karlanna

I'm in this situation right now. However, when talking about cost, you did not mention all the opportunities to work and save money during a gap year. I am taking a gap year because university cost was prohibitive, so I am looking to better finance my education after the gap year. #S2C

Emily Vincent
Emily Vincent

I was too hasty to hit reply and forgot to add this to my comment! #s2c

Emily Vincent
Emily Vincent

I really enjoyed reading this article! I havn't ever thought of taking a "gap year" before going to Grad school. While I most likely will not, the thought is intriguing. I want to be an Occupational Therapist and am majoring in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. I would love to be able to travel to an underdeveloped country and use my skills to help others. But all that will have to wait until I get the proper training....in Grad school. I had a teacher in high school that did a program similar to the Peace Corps but was completely unrelated, and I must say that the idea of being able to just take some time to myself after working myself so hard in college would be a much needed opportunity. This article has definitely given me something to think about!

Giovann
Giovann

I think that Con No. 1 is probably the biggest barrier hindering most college students from taking that gap year before entering the workforce/ grad school. I think it gets especially difficult when many college students are relying on loans to get through school. I believe that, if I were to take a gap year after my bachelor's, I'd spend it at home. Thanks for all the info! #S2C

Nisa
Nisa

This article is extremely informative, but it is most likely not attainable from most college grads. However, this does not seem likely for all; especially scene money makes the world go around! I would love to read an article that helps students to achieve this goal if it is something considered for the future because taking a year might be helpful to prepare for taking on a new career. Thank you. #s2c