It feels like I was in Madrid for orientation just yesterday and a lot has changed since that week in September. I have learned how to find an apartment, traveled a ton, and become comfortable with my life in Spain. To think it'll be over in a few months is astonishing. Thus, I wanted to write a post on the infamous post-grad question: is a gap year worth it? It's a question I remember asking myself my senior year of college, reading various blog posts about other people's experiences, and of course freaking out because my friends were getting "big kid jobs" and I wasn't quite there yet. For those wondering about gap years and post-grad fellowships this one's for you.
1. Reflect/Brainstorm Your Interests
Prior to Fulbright I was debating between a gap year, grad school, or beginning a full-time career. There is a lot to consider and it can be overwhelming so I set aside some time and took it piece by piece. I asked myself questions such as: did I want to go straight into School Pscyhology? How will I pay for graduate school? Should I work first? I wrote down goals I wanted to achieve. I wrote down how I will achieve those goals. I made a list of my interests and passions. However, the one brainstorming idea that was most beneficial was writing down what I don't like to do. Though it's often bad to focus on the negative, I think it was necessary for me to physically write down what I know I didn't like since I have many interests. From there, I could decide on the skills I wanted to improve on and find opportunities that would enhance those skills and challenge me at the same time.
2. Do Your Research on Gap Programs
Where do you want to live? How will you get to and from your gap year placement? What's their objective? What's the pay? All of these questions are so important. After you spent all that time brainstorming and reflecting on your interests, don't just go and pick a random program! Look up the organization's mission and purpose to see if their goals align with your own. It may or may not be a career-long opportunity, but you don't want to waste a year working with in a field that doesn't have transferable skills for your passion. For example, I was skeptical about teaching before applying to Fulbright. Now I know that I do enjoy it and want to work with Spanish-speakers in a domestic or international context. Thus, Fulbright was the perfect opportunity to do so while also gaining a new experience and skills in teaching. University websites and online catalogs like Pro Fellow are excellent tools to find fellowships!
3. Financing Your Gap Year
We live the world of capitalism so it is necessary to look into the ways you will finance a gap year. This information would probably appear during your research, but I wanted to point it out because it's the one aspect that can be very difficult and draining. As a person who has student loans financing my year was, and still is, a big burden I had to research. Fulbright offers many perks, but each program is different. If you are in a similar situation look at the benefits of your gap year program. Is it paid? Is there a transportation stipend to get to and from work? Are there health benefits? What are the loan deferment options? Do they offer a relocation allowance? Again, these are financial questions to think about when researching.
4. Your Gap Year Does Not Have to Be Abroad
Speaking of relocation, I think there is a misconception that gap years are only for traveling abroad to "find yourself" as you teach English or build a library in a developing country. It may be true for some people, for others like me it isn't the goal. Yes, when you're abroad you can enjoy traveling if you want, but for me the main purpose of a gap year is to both take a mini-break while attaining a beneficial experience for where I end up next. If you are afraid of flying or just aren't interested in traveling you still have a plethora of options. There are programs out there like City Year, Public Allies, AmeriCorps and other faith-based organizations that don't require you to leave the comfort of the U.S. to get an experience worth a year of your time. Don't feel pressured to pick a program abroad if that experience doesn't motivate you or push you closer toward your goals. It won't be worth it.
5. If You Can, Don't Rush the Process
Though each situation is different based on how much time you have to make a choice, I would say don't pick an option for the sake of making a decision. It's like trying on an outfit and buying it because you think it will "grow on you." No. If your heart is not in it as you are applying (or shopping), you probably won't enjoy it in the long run. Take Fulbright for example. I wouldn't have written the essays, asked for the references and waited 10 months for a final response if I didn't think Fulbright would help me grow as a student, person or professional. I looked into what Fulbrighters did after their year was up and decided if those were paths I wanted to take. LinkedIn is a fantastic resource to use to search for programs and see what the alumni are doing now, I recommend it. Take your time, it's your future we're talking about!
I say all this to tell you that a gap year may not actually be for you. The money may not be right, the fellowship may not be available or you realized you are ready to jump into the workforce. But, there's nothing wrong with taking the time to figure all this out whether you go for a gap year or not. To all my soon-to-be graduates here's the best piece of advice I have: it's ok to not have everything figured out. I know society tells us that we have to know our major freshman year, research what degrees make the most money so we should choose those over our passion, and that by senior year you should know exactly what you want to do with your chosen degree. Don't believe the hype! It's helpful to have ideas as a foundation, but don't jump ahead to step 15 when you don't know step 1. Take the time to reflect and figure it out. By June I am positive I won't have all the answers to my future after being here for 10 months. However, I am certain that I'm about 20 steps closer than I was a year ago. And right now, that's all I need.
Have you done a gap year? Do you wish you had? What are some career tips to help out post grads?
I'd rather splurge on a good meal than a nice hotel, wine than water and plane tickets than club covers. Traveling and eating are my two favorite things, so follow my journey to see where I go and eat next! I'm just living my best life.