Why Every New Graduate Should Take a Gap Year

Colin Heinrich
Colin enjoys traveling slow through whichever country will have him. He's considering changing his middle name to “Adventure,” and enjoys music...

First things first: congratulations, kid. You’ve graduated. You’ve finished the longest and most difficult series of trials and tribulations you’ve ever had to go through, and with any luck, you did it without a single smear on your permanent record. Everybody’s real proud of that. Doesn’t matter if it’s college or high school in your rearview mirror -- it’s a huge step in the next direction of your life.

But once you take it, where do you go next? Because as you’ve probably figured out by now, the permanent record doesn’t even exist. We’re all just winging this little life of ours.

It may not feel like it. The course is often set already by cultural norms and familial expectations. Get a job. Get a house. Get married, have 2.5 kids, install your white picket fence and eat apple pie, apple pie, apple pie for the rest of your boring old life. But it’s not set in stone, so why not break the mold a little bit?

Why not take a gap year instead? There are dozens of reasons to do it, but come on. It’s a gap year. It shouldn’t take that many. But here’s a few anyway:

1. It'll Help Ease the Transition

I remember what it’s like, being a senior. You're on top of the food chain, because you’ve made it through four years of school, you know the campus like the back of your hand, and you’ve seen everything there is to see from the bookstacks to the quad. You’ve been through the ringer already. You’re set for life, and you’ve got the degree to prove it.

But now for the truth bomb: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

New grads take a gap year

Gap years give you time. They give you breathing room. It’s a chance to decompress from the rigors of study and learn a little bit about yourself before getting a job or entering college.

When you get down to it, all those nights you spent trying to cram an essay in last-minute, or those Friday night parties you missed because you had a huge exam on Monday they were relatively inconsequential. Sure, they got you where you are today. Your degree, your career path, your college of choice. But the instant you graduate, you’re gonna get bombarded with new responsibilities, and then the bills are gonna kick you while you’re down.

The transition can be jarring. You’re like the candidate that lost the presidency, whirling in a circle until the dust clears, left with hardly a road map, wondering where everybody went. Don’t be alarmed; everybody else is doing it too. But with a little insight, a little planning, you can be the one who eases the transition.

2. You'll Learn More through Travel Than You Can Imagine

You just graduated and got this great education -- so what else is there to learn?

The answer: so much more. Traveling and taking a gap year will teach you some of the things you never could have learned in high school or college. It will give you an opportunity to apply some of what you did learn (like languages) or see first hand the lofty academic theories you were taught (like anthropology or economics).

But more importantly, gap years teach you what you're capable of and give you the confidence to be an independent, fully functioning adult.

3. It Makes Finding a Career Easier

For many people, gap years are just that -- a year on the road, no more, no less. The thing that gets them is the idea that, because they’re taking so much time off to travel and see the world, the careers they could be building will somehow pass them by. That having a resume gap will doom them to a life of food stamps and begging on the street, watching as all their friends miraculously bloom without them. It’s not true.

If you want companies to see you as a great candidate, you’ll need to show them that you used your time abroad wisely.

Just take a look at American Gap's statistics on gap years. 88% of gap year students have reported that taking the gap year actually increased their employability. And so, as this information becomes more common knowledge, the number of people taking these gap years increases as well. You won’t be alone backpacking through Asia. Far from it.

There are a few reasons for this. Taking a gap year shows employers that you’re able to adapt and grow. Gap years give you a chance to develop skills far beyond what you could at home -- independence in the face of adversity, new languages, etc. By picking up new skills, you actually turn yourself into much more of a Renaissance Person. And if a company can hire somebody who can do more than one job, you better believe they will.

4. Students who Take a Gap Year are More Successful

Recently, Kate Evans investigated whether or not students who take a post-high school gap year are more successful than their non-gap year taking peers. Her findings: yes. A huge, resounding yes.

Students who take a gap year between high school and college tend to do better in school because they enter refreshed, more independent, driven, and confident of their academic path.

Naturally, all of these traits could help you career-wise as well. (And if it does, let us know, so we can interview you for a part two to that article!)

5. You Could Find Your Calling

Of course, none of that happens automatically. If you want companies to see you as a great candidate, you’ll need to show them that you used your time abroad wisely. Obviously that doesn’t mean there’s no time for fun on your gap year (otherwise, why not just go straight into a career?), but it does mean you should focus a little bit on improving your resume.

Gap year reasons

That’s the beauty of the gap year. Far too many people don't know what they want in life, even by the time they finish college, and so resign themselves to the cookie cutter existence that's been laid out for them by cultural expectations. But not you. You’re taking time to discover yourself, and you’re not bound by any limitations.

So try everything. Try working on a farm for a little, earning your keep by milking sheep and shaving cows. Maybe you’ll want to have a go as a scuba instructor -- there are lots of certifications you could earn over the course of a year. The world is your oyster.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a zookeeper, but I wound up going to school for writing. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve had the chance to work with animals and found my love for them rekindled. You, too, could have the same kind of revelation.

6. It’s Cheaper than You’d Think

Here we are. The real reason most of you would even consider forgoing a gap year. I know, I know. Money’s tight. You need to worry about your future, saving and starting a career. You may even have some looming and intimidating debt.

We disagree. Gap years are more affordable than ever, especially with the opportunities to work on your gap year and all of the scholarships many companies and colleges are giving out just to convince you to go on one. These companies are literally telling you to go overseas. There’s no reason to ignore them.

Even if you don’t get a scholarship, however, you shouldn’t get caught up in thinking about money. It’s not about having enough right now. It’s about going.

Far too many people don't know what they want in life, even by the time they finish college. But you’re taking time to discover yourself, and you’re not bound by any limitations.

The real problem is, people overthink it, they overplan it, and that’s what keeps them from doing it. They think they need funds for everything they want to do before they set out, they need a fancy backpack to hold everything they’ll ever need, they need that universal sink stopper and pegless clothes line and compact toiletries and fancy guidebooks.

People can spend so much money trying to get somewhere that they’ll never actually arrive. Just go. I have a friend to arrived in Australia with, $20 in her pocket. Got a job at a hostel. Plugged up a sink with a sock and did her laundry in that with hand soap from the bathroom. But she was in another country, she was doing it. And she was saving enough money that she got to do the things she wanted to do. It’s like running a race.

Sure, that girl stumbled off the blocks and it took her a bit to find her footing before she could sprint, but at least she wasn’t still at the store looking at the shoes on sale.

7. It's an Alternative Way to Get Essential Job Experience

You know how it seems like every "entry level job" is requiring 1-2 years experience? And those that don't require 1-2 years experience are bland administrative assistant positions?

Well, a gap year working an entry level job abroad will take the sting out of mundane tasks. A year teaching English abroad will let you get work experience in a much more dynamic and fun work environment. An internship abroad at an international company could give you just the leg up you need.

Basically, why would you settle for a blah job here at home, when you could accomplish that first step towards your dream career while having an adventure abroad?

8. Big Life Transitions are Made for Gap Years

Get job experience on your gap year

Yes, it's true, you could take a gap year at any time of your life. But lets be real here for a second: as a recent graduate, you have far fewer responsibilities that would keep you from packing a bag and traipsing across the globe.

You don't have a house. You're not married. You don't have kids. You probably don't have a flourishing career (yet). Other than (maybe) your car, your friends, and family, you won't be leaving much behind -- and all that you are leaving behind will happily wait for you.

So what are you waiting for?

Now that you've graduated, you're facing a whole lot of options. The real world is so vastly different than the "pass out at three, wake up at ten" mentality of college (or even the structured, guided nature of high school, for you youngins that need to get off my lawn).

You and your friends have probably joked about how horrifying it is, hiding the truth in your voices. But you know what? The only reason the real world seems scary is because you haven't experienced it yet. And experience doesn't come from a cubicle.

By the time you’ve finished high school or college, you won’t have seen 1% of what the world has to offer. So you want a reason to go on a gap year? You need one? You should need a reason not to go. By the time you get back, you'll be ready to tackle the rest of your life with a smile on your face.

Photo Credits: NTU and Colin Heinrich.