Wondering if you should pursue a graduate degree, take a break, or dive right into work? Life after college can be a struggle at first, so don’t write off taking a break so soon.
Gap years usually refer to students taking a break after high school before applying to college, since most people don’t pursue graduate degrees. However, if you’ve been thinking about grad school then you’ve probably wondered if you should take a gap year after college, too.
This is what you can expect if you spend a year outside of academia
Why take a gap year after college?
Plenty of people go to grad school because they aren’t sure what to do after college, but that’s not always the right answer. People take gap years for a reason: they can really help to organize your life and yourself before taking on your next big challenge. Chief among those reasons include:
- Saving money for graduate school.
- Improving your physical health.
- Improving your mental health.
- Gaining real-world work experience.
- Exploring new opportunities and industries.
- Developing new skills.
- Deciding if graduate school is for you.
There’s considerable wisdom in taking time off in between programs. School can be incredibly stressful at all levels, making it important to have your health, mental health, and finances in order. Putting in the time to reflect on your life and your future is also a wise decision.
Either way, you will not suffer any kind of “penalty” in the admissions process if you’ve taken a gap year. In fact, it’s quite common for older applicants to gain admission because they bring focus, experience, and they know how to manage their time and energy better than many young applicants.
What to do with a gap year after college
There’s plenty you can do during a gap year, and it doesn’t have to be travelling (as if grads with $30,000 in debt can afford to travel).
Take a look a these options to get your creative juices flowing:
- Get a survival job
- Volunteer or join a non-profit organization
- Take your gap year abroad after college
- Start planning your career
- Make a financial plan for the future
- Network with friends and family for next steps
- Get an internship after college
Gap year programs after college
There are a few types of programs you can join during your gap year:
- Leadership training
- Language immersion
- Cultural exchange (also heavy on language immersion)
Some of those programs you’ll need to take abroad: language immersion and cultural exchanges almost always require travel to other locales. Teaching often involves teaching your native language in particular, so you can expect a fair degree of travel for that as well. Just a fair warning (once the pandemic is over).
Leadership training programs can come in all shapes and sizes, and you don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to Ivy League schools to enroll. Check out these courses and programs for your gap year after college.
- Pryor Learning Solutions has plenty of seminars and webinars that you can join to learn the fundamentals of leadership and management.
- Bell Leadership Institute has a leadership cornerstone program plus some programs specializing in different aspects of leadership.
- American Management Association offers certification programs, though they are on the expensive side and out of reach for most recent graduates. Consider this if an employer, school, or associated organization will cover the cost.
- Alison.com offers a quick, free course on leadership skills in business for those looking to get their feet wet.
- The Open University has a thorough collection of online courses on leadership and management. They’ll keep you busy for a while.
Language immersion & cultural exchange programs
You can spend your gap year after college learning new languages and cultures, which can give you an edge in the working world or even in a grad school application.
Here are the kinds of options you can pursue, according to Go Abroad:
- Studying Arabic in Jordan
- Studying French in Quebec
- Learning Chinese in Shanghai
- Studying German in Berlin or Munich
- Learning Italian in Rome
- Learning Japanese in Tokyo
- Practicing Portuguese in Lisbon
- Learning Brazlian in Salvador
- Pick up Spanish in Argentina
There are a lot of options, but not all of them require you to travel, which would be the wise decision during any pandemic emergencies. Check out your options!
According to Nomadic Matt, these are the best places to teach English abroad if you’re considering it for your gap year after college.
- South Korea
- The Middle East
- Czech Republic (Prague)
It’s also worth teaching online, and you can get paid to do it—although it has become competitive since COVID-19 has forced many people to teach remotely in place of traveling to do it.
The wages aren’t likely to be amazing but it will let you build relevant experience while supporting yourself—and it generally beats retail work.
Gap year jobs after college
Taking a gap year after college doesn’t mean you need to travel or invent an app. You can just work for a year to build up your savings or learn to live independently if you weren’t doing that already in your undergraduate program.
Just be warned that recent grads usually can’t find a job after college because it takes so long compared to more established professionals.
Even “survival jobs” can help you build up savings and expand your professional network. Consider that it takes recent graduates 7.4 months to find a job (according to Workopolis and Indeed). Does it make sense to spend more than half a year looking for the perfect job and then applying to a grad program 4-5 months later?
Your time would be better spent doing one or both of these things:
- Getting a survival job while living at home to build savings.
- Following the 7-step strategy to get a job (the reliable way).
Consider applying for these jobs in your gap year:
- Retail associate
- Warehouse worker
- Administrative assistant
- Junior content writer
- Junior copywriter
- Hospitality worker
Survival jobs buy breathing room for you to pick your next steps and, if you find cheap living arrangements, you might be able to build up some savings as well. Humanities and liberal arts grads are actually pretty good at applying to non-specialized jobs. Just take a look at this data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; grads from programs like history, journalism, and political science have some of the lowest unemployment rates by academic discipline.
There’s a long list of jobs you can take abroad to gain travel experience as well, including teaching English—which pays quite well (when the COVID crisis passes).
Otherwise, you may not have enough time to find the best jobs after college if you plan to pursue a graduate program afterward. It can take a few months to build up legitimate work experience.
Finances during a gap year
Finances can get tricky after graduation. You aren’t going to school, so your time opens up to earn money—but you’ll likely find yourself at the bottom of the ladder. You may have student debt that needs to be paid off as well, which is a serious commitment.
Estimates for the average debt after college can vary from $20,000 to $40,000, depending on the source. If you’re carrying a student loan then you’ll need a plan to pay it all off whether or not you take a gap year (not to mention that grad school could add to that debt).
Student debt has been climbing higher and higher every year without signs of stopping. Just check out this historical bar graph below:
Here’s what you can do.
Reducing your cost of living will make the biggest impact on your personal finances. Living at home after college is probably the wisest financial move you can make because it lets you save so much money. If you get a job offer elsewhere, then take it—but keep your parents’ home as a prominent Plan B in the event that you don’t get one.
Living at home works doubly well during the pandemic because so many white-collar jobs are being done remotely now out of necessity. Most companies just don’t have the option to shut down, so they’ve made the compromise to let people work from home. If you do get an offer after following this 7-step roadmap to get a job, then you can save almost all of that money by working from home at your parents’ place.
Just look at how much the average graduate spends on living costs every year in the bar chart below:
That’ll pay off in the long run because you’ll have money for the “adult” things in life:
- Professional clothes
- Personal transportation
- Emergency savings
- Life savings and investments
- A down payment for a home
Those are the things that people tend to pursue after graduating because they improve our quality of life.
Pro tip: Wealth comes from savings, not earnings. The average salary after college is pretty low—especially for humanities and liberal arts graduates—so you can give yourself an edge by saving as much as possible.
If done shrewdly, taking a gap year after college can set yourself up for success for the next 5 years, including graduate school if you end up applying to one.