You’ve made it across the stage and collected your diploma. Having survived college, you’re undoubtedly now overwhelmed by family and friends asking you what you have planned next. If you’re anything like the majority of recent college graduates, you likely don’t have a solid answer. That’s normal! But while others may be telling you to get a job and start planning your future, I’m here to tell you the exact opposite. Consider taking a gap year!
While post-collegiate gap years are practically a right of passage for twenty-somethings from some parts of the world, they are rarely discussed where I come from in the States. If anything, a gap year is something you take after high school to gain some experience before you head back to school. But a gap year after college can be just as much an opportunity for growth - and perhaps more.
In 2016, I visited Ireland to celebrate graduating from college. I returned from that trip with little direction on what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I knew was that I had fallen in love with Dublin and I needed to live there. Ironically, I didn’t do what I am advising you to consider now, because no one ever told me that a gap year was an option. I took a job out of college that seemed to have potential and then spent a year feeling stuck in a field that I didn’t have a passion for. I began researching ways to move abroad, and what I found changed my life for the better.
It turns out that taking a gap year after college is far more normal than you’d expect. There are plenty of programs that offer students and graduates “working holiday” visas to spend a year or two living abroad like I’m doing now. Many graduates take off to au pair in Europe or teach English in Asia. Some simply backpack through regions and cultures. No matter what corner of the globe we’re off to, we all come back from a gap year with a better sense of direction and a stronger sense of self. Here are some of my observations as to why:
You’ll Gain Perspective
There may be seven billion people out there, but start traveling and you’ll begin to realize just how small the world can really be.
Taking a gap year to move abroad or travel changes the way you see the world. In a sense, you become a global citizen. If you go into your gap year with an open mind, you will truly find enlightenment. Immerse yourself in understanding different cultures - their religions, their traditions, their ways of life. You’ll realize that people really aren’t that different after all.
You’ll Have Time to Discover Your Passions
Today’s graduates are inundated with pressures to find a job and build a career. We are told how impossible it is to find work. How we’ll never be able to afford a home if we don’t start saving now. It’s no wonder that we feel pressure to dive right into the workforce after graduation. Yet this is how graduates find themselves trapped in a career they don’t love.
Not enough people tell you that it is perfectly normal to graduate college and still not be sure of what you want to do. Just because some people are lucky enough to find their direction early in life doesn’t mean that everyone is. Your career is something that you’ll spend the majority of your life pursuing. Be sure to make it something that you actually enjoy.
After some sixteen plus years of education, it’s alright to give yourself a break. Taking a gap year gives you some time outside of the pressures of the classroom to do some self-reflection. You have room to pursue whatever interests you and you’ll find yourself drawn to the things you enjoy the most.
You’ll Make Connections Across the Globe
Taking a gap year abroad is just as much about the people you will meet as it is the places you will see. After living in Dublin for a year, I now have Irish connections that I will likely stay in contact with for years to come. But I also stay in contact with the Australians I met in Edinburgh for Hogmanay. The Americans I met in Reykjavik. The Brits I met in Paris.
Your gap year is a chance to network and build a community of connections all over the globe. You never know how this could help further your career aspirations. And if nothing else, you’ll make friends for life.
You’ll Complement Your Academic Knowledge with Real World Experience
Spending a year abroad will expand your skill set in more ways than you can imagine, so that when you are ready to start your career, your resume will stand out above the rest. Understand the global economy better. Strengthen your intercultural relations. Learn a new language, or three.
These are skills that won’t only widen your perspective, but also make you more hirable in the long run. The things that you learn in college only make up half of your education. The rest will come from your real-world experiences. Take time to learn from people and experiences in a hands-on environment.
You Can Reflect on Your Strengths & Gain Confidence in Them
When you’re on a gap year, you’ll be forced to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. You will not go home the same person you were when you boarded that plane. You’ll realize the things that make you uncomfortable, and you’ll recognize the things you excel in. Embrace them all and you’ll grow for it.
Taking a gap year gave me the confidence boost that I sorely needed, and this has made me both a stronger worker and a more extroverted person than I was a year ago.
A gap year after college offers not only some time outside of the pressures of education to discover what you enjoy, but the opportunity to add a global perspective to your resume that will make you that much more hirable in the long run. While the logistics may not always be easy, the experience will more than pay off for itself in the long run. Ask yourself what you have to lose. With a post-collegiate gap year, you have everything to gain.