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In parts one and two, I warned students and parents about wasting time and money on a bad college strategy, and noted that a great option is to allow a gap year between high school and university. But how does a gap year work? There are two aspects: the work itself and lining up college for later.
The Work “Curriculum” I hadn’t expected my daughter to land as wonderful a job as she did, so let me explain how the gap year approach would have worked even if she had only landed a job sweeping floors. She had an advantage over kids going to college: they vacated the job market, so she had little competition in the fall for jobs typically given to them. So, the idea was to go after intern positions that were vacated at the end of summer. Lots of companies have college interns during the summer. Employers like the low pay and limited commitment. So when she interviewed, she announced three things:
- That she was taking a gap year to get job experience to verify her career choice and was looking for an intern experience.
- That she was already accepted at a college and would only be available only until fall the following year.
- That she was willing to take a part-time position, short-term position, or full-time position (anything).
That immediately solicited respect in the person she interviewed with. Also, with little experience to speak of, she would never get in the door by sending out résumés. So she went in-person from target company to company with the following approach. Walk in with no appointment, ask the receptionist if she could leave her résumé. If so, ask a few questions about the company, then say “I happen to have my portfolio. Since I am here, do you think someone might be able to see me now?” She got interviews 20 percent of the time that way. That approach got her a wonderful job at a firm that probably had a stack of a thousand résumés in waiting.
But what if that didn’t work? Actually, I thought the interviewing by itself was the education. She would see lots of companies, peer into the field she thought she wanted as a career, and learn what it takes to get a job in the real world. So Plan B was: I only expected her to end up sweeping floors, but in the right places. The “Work Curriculum” included three targets: work at a small business, a large business, and a niche company (hopefully high-end). I had expected her to switch jobs every few months. The “Work Curriculum” was to also include things she could not do if in college, like attend several conventions in her fields of interest or relevant travel. And yes, we are going to fly her across the country to these industry conventions.
Plan C was: Get the interview experience, get the convention experience, and if she could not get a job at all, she was going to work for me and we would have our daughter one more year to guide and love.
Lining Up the College
As I said, she was accepted at a college and she decided to take a gap year just a month before the fall start. She even had merit scholarships in place due to high grades. So here is what you do. Call the college and inform them you are taking a gap year or deferment. They will think you are doing so to raise money for tuition, let them think whatever they want. We were told by the admissions office of students who took gap years between every school year to earn enough to pay for college (I guess they were trying to make us poor folks feel better). So the college moved the admission date to the following year. In my daughter’s case, all the scholarships are safe as long as she does not go to another college during the gap year. She still has to come in as a freshman (with no transfer credits). It was actually very simple. She is locked in for college next year.
As promised, let me tie up a loose end. I will try to lower those eyebrows that raised when I said to not borrow for college. In the proceeding paragraph you learned how some students go to college a year, take a year to earn money, go to college a year or two, take off again, till they can pay without borrowing. By that process, it might take seven or eight years to get a four-year degree. Let me tell you why that is better than four years in school and then 20 years with school debt. Just re-read that sentence; that’s the reason (and actually, the average is 21.1 years).
Plus you have this wonderful opportunity to merge work and education, letting each inform the other. So after your first year in college, you get a bottom level job in your field of interest. Just working in your field will influence your next year’s education, which then influences the job you will and can get the next gap year, and so on. Resulting in a degree so finely tuned to the market that you will likely walk directly into a job after graduation, debt-free. In our case, we only had one child in college at a time and thus could afford (barely) to pay as we went with no debt. I would not go into debt for a child’s education any more than I would let them go into debt. If we could not afford the total amount, I would ask the child to take gap years as needed.
The alternative is to graduate with debt and ruin your life, and I mean it. Graduating with a huge debt will impact you for the rest of your days. The average US student loan payment is $499/month and is not paid off until he/she is in their 40s. Presently 30-year-olds are retreating from the housing market. Why? Lower credit scores and loan ratios (they can’t qualify for loans with student debts in the back-end ratios). These folks must postpone house purchases now, postpone wealth accumulation to much later, postpone retirement savings for decades, and this creates families with less financial assets and less ability to help their children. Now it’s impacting the next generation.
Be smart, don’t let a college education ruin your life.
The next and final article in the series: Time to Rethink College (Part 4): Filing the Gaps in the Gap Year Theory.