Q. I graduated from high school in May and am supposed to start college in two weeks, but I’m trying to talk my parents into letting me delay college for a year so I can travel and figure out what I really want to do with my career. I think I want to go into PR, but I’m not sure. Any advice for me or my parents? -CP
A. Although I couldn’t afford to do so when I graduated from high school, I’m now a major proponent of taking time off to determine the career path you want to pursue—especially if you’re financially able to do so. A gap year usually occurs during the transition from high school to college or after you complete a year or two of college. An increasing number of new college grads also are taking time off before they start internships and full-time jobs.
As you evaluate gap year opportunities, make sure you pursue something where you can learn a skill that will benefit your future career path. Or volunteer for a cause that allows you to test your true interest in public relations, perhaps through helping organize or promote a nonprofit event.
I heard from a student this summer who took time off to live in Italy. While there, she worked at the USA Pavilion at the international Milan Expo 2015. Through this experience, the student observed and learned skills that will be applicable to her eventual PR job. She also extended her network globally, plus she spent free time touring an amazing country.
The key to a successful gap year is to not waste your time. Don’t use it as an excuse to avoid making forward progress towards determining your eventual career. One way of ensuring a successful gap year is to work through an accredited organization that helps ensure a worthwhile experience. There’s actually an organization appropriately named American Gap Association that accredits an impressive array of programs ranging from a 3-month or less Outward Bound experience to the yearlong Global Citizen Year program. The AGA site provides information about how to effectively use this time to discover “what’s next”, plus there is information that will make your parents more comfortable with the idea of your not going to college this fall.