Go to college, get a job, and die is the perceived path that many students have in their heads of what they are supposed to do. There are alternatives, though, to the either/or choices of college or flipping burgers. Several students take time off to figure out what they want to do – this is called a gap year.
Many students have been discovering the benefits of a gap year between degrees. A gap year is simply time off from academia in which a person does something besides study. This can include work, volunteering, travel or simply contemplating the future. The gap year does not need to be a full year and it can run longer as well.
The timing of the gap year tends to be between secondary school (high school) and college, but there is a growing contingent of students who take time off between higher learning degrees as well.
"I did college and then straight into a Master's; my Master's ended in December of '08 and Ph.D. programs don't start until the fall, generally," said Randi Tucker, a second-year Ph.D. student in linguistics. "So I had about six months free where I decided to work."
She worked a few part-time jobs before landing a position with Student Life at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Other than making a lot of money, she also says she received plenty of life and teaching experience.
Tucker admits that it sounds cheesy, but she is grateful for the time off in which she was able to figure things out. Simply put, she is now certain about her program and feels she belongs here.
"It's a good thing to take time off and figure out what you want rather than paying a school thousands of dollars while you're figuring it out," Tucker said. "You need an undergrad degree to get a lot of jobs, but for advanced degrees I would definitely advise people to take the time off; see what you find – unless you're absolutely sure."
Jessica Kilbury, a senior African & African American studies and global gender studies major, is planning on taking some time off after graduation next month. Kilbury, like many graduating seniors, is unsure of what she wants to do and only recently realized graduate school as a possibility. There are a few things to work out, though.
"I'm just hoping to find out if my heart is in the right place and see if I can do something without going to grad school. Or try to find a job where I can do what I love and not go to grad school because I do not want to get stuck doing something I don't want to do," Kilbury said. "If I want to apply to grad school, I need to start applying in December and that probably won't be enough time for me, especially since my lease runs out in August."
Kilbury plans to work for whatever she can get to pay the rent and think hard about what she wants to do with her particular path.
Sarah Gomillion, a second-year Ph.D. student studying social personality psychology, also took some time for herself.
"I took a year off between high school and college. I took a few classes at a community college, and I traveled and I did some volunteer work," Gomillion said. "I did everything people tend to do in their gap year."
Gomillion cites a combination of friends taking a gap year before her and recommending it along with finances being a bit tight right after high school, making a little time off even more appealing.
After her year off, though, Gomillion felt that she could not stand to do more time off and was definitely ready to go to college. She is glad that she was a little older and a little more mature than the other freshmen in her classes.
Sometimes, there is no set path between degrees or the path becomes blurred. For Juliane Schnibbe, a first-year Master's student in higher education and student affairs administration at Buffalo State, her path was interrupted for scheduling issues between programs. In the interim, though, Schnibbe discovered art was not the way she wanted to go after all.
"I actually went to [SUNY] New Paltz and figured I'd do a few classes there and get to know my professors because I figured I could do my Master's there. In the process I realized I didn't want to do art any more," Schnibbe said. "Not living on campus in this time also made me realize how much I missed the student life aspect of college, because I was really involved in my undergrad, so I decided that's what I wanted to do."
Schnibbe also feels that her time off, looking for work in the real world, has given her a leg up on the other students in her program who have no real work experience. This allows her to look forward to next year when she must look for employment much more than her classmates.
Though there are many forms of a gap year, and many reasons to take one, each contributor agreed that there were major benefits to how they look at school now, how they view their life after school, and how they see life in general.