Just as you would plan for making application to a national scholarship, fellowship or competitive internship, so, too you need to plan ahead for your ‘Gap Year(s)’. At the CCSA we refer to these as ‘Years of Intention’ because, in fact, they are far more intentional than what you may have taken previous to your undergraduate degree. As you move through your undergraduate experience, you may come to realize taking a year or two away from school and before you fully commit to a ‘professional’ life, will best support your future plans and ambition. But, as with planning your undergraduate experience, be sure you plan to use your gap year(s) in a productive and meaningful way. Many students choose to pursue employment opportunities, but there are a number of other ways to use your time to both build on and enhance your first four to five years of higher education. Also, for the record, taking time before making a commitment to graduate school, law school, medical school, or your career, is not a detriment but, in actual fact, can make you a more compelling candidate and effective in your longer-term endeavors. It is a myth that graduate schools expect students to attend immediately following their undergraduate experience; taking time to gain some ‘real-world’ experience only offers you greater choices and options.
Planning tips: Give yourself at least one year, preferably even two, to prepare for and apply for national ‘Gap Year’ opportunities like the Peace Corps, Teach for America, and so forth. Just like planning and applying for national scholarships and fellowships, you need to not only stay on top of your deadlines and application expectations, you also need to strategically make the most of every opportunity while an undergraduate. Taking time to plan will also allow you to identify opportunities best fit you and what you plan to pursue in graduate school and/or in your career.
Upon graduation, you will find that funding for specialized ‘Year of Intention’ opportunities is difficult to come by and therefore, more competitive. There are certainly opportunities to volunteer but if you are looking to support yourself, even minimally, through a gap year, you should expect to develop a competitive application. If you intend to use these ‘Years of Intention’ to help further your own development personally and professionally, then it makes sense to pursue those which are still in keeping with your previous studies and interests. You should be able to indicate your preparation through formal study, undergraduate research, volunteer, service and leadership experiences, foreign language training, relevant internships, international study, and so forth.
‘Year of Intention’ or ‘Gap-Year’ opportunities have become increasingly competitive and to ensure your application is given every consideration, be able to articulate in writing, through your CV, personal statement, and even perhaps a project proposal and speak to the following:
- Your academic achievements – a strong GPA, research experience, challenging course-work;
- Your co- and extra-curricular activities as an indication of a well-developed and engaged undergraduate experience – involvement in undergraduate research, service learning, volunteer and community service, campus activities, and significant leadership experience locally, nationally, and internationally, study abroad;
- Employment, internships, co-ops, and other salaried opportunities;
- Evidence of a strong support system in mentors, faculty, advisors, and others critical to your personal, academic and professional development.
FACT: One of the most important things you must do during your ‘Year(s) of Intention’ is to maintain relationships with your faculty, advisors, and others who have mentored you. Even if they have already written some kind of letter of recommendation for you, a lot can happen in 1-2 years. And, anyway, the whole point of building those relationships has less to do with any kind of letter and everything to do with how they have and will continue to help you as you plan your future. So, make a point of staying in touch without any strings attached. Send an email, check-in, visit when back on campus, set a coffee date, read what they are currently working on in their own research, and just do the good, important work of staying in touch.
Career Advancement can help you identify opportunities for employment and internships, including those that have a social-engagement focus. Your faculty, research mentors, and advisors can also be a great resource.