If skill and time had not prevented, I would have liked the illustration at right to show a young person in the education box — not tall enough to look out and unable to see what is in the next box. In the previous series (I, II, III) I shared from my personal experiences with my own children, how I tried to give them exposure in both the education and work worlds as they grew so the career decision is not a jump into the unknown. In response, others added to my thoughts their own wisdom (thank you ricochettes). So if there is a parent or young adult thinking of bucking the trend, they need the support of many voices. Because, the hardest part in not conforming to the cultural expectation for college right after high school is trying to explain why to our family, friends and teachers. My daughter experienced this first hand while talking to a parent of one of her graduating peers. When my daughter explained she was taking a gap year, the adult walked away before she could fully explain the logic. That is tough on a kid and can be tough on parents. So the reason to do this last post is make it easier for others to take alternate paths.
Interweaving Work and School
I think visually — So I thought it helpful to add some clarifying diagrams. Some will recognize the source. For those old enough to have read the Three Boxes of Life, you will understand the desire to interweave work and school. To the left (literally and politically) is the cultural expectation. You get educated, then, go to work. Simple, clear, easy to administer, similar to any other top down solution, and at odds with reality and the needs of the person. As some noted, young adults without previous work experience become difficult to “launch” at the end of college — the transition is too unfamiliar, the leap is too far to do in one step.
The better plan, obviously on the right, has experiences with work increasing from childhood. Where as a child, we experience the work world as household chores. Shall we will call that a “gap hour” from education and play? As one ages, the experience of work increases. You may work with your parent (a gap day). In your early teens help Uncle Bob outdoors (a gap week). Have a summer job in high school (a gap summer). Eventually the gaps become the fabric of your life when you work full time. What is important to see is the woven transition from education to work.
“Gap Year” Confusion
It has become clear that the terms “gap year” and “intern” have lots of meanings. If you Googled “gap year” you will be confused. The search results for “gap year” yield mostly gap year “programs” where you pay some organization to provide a travel, internship, or learning experience. That’s not what I had in mind. I’m recommending “real jobs” not a “program.” I’m recommending earning money, not paying money. If you pay money you become the student client, much like going to school, and it undermines what you need to learn. You need to learn what jobs the world is willing to pay for, and searching for a real job will tell you that. You need see what your industry of interest is really like as a career, and working in a real business in the only way to learn that.
I would like to leave you with the collective wisdom from my favorite comments on the previous posts in this series:
“Gap year? I had “Gap summers” from the age of 14-21 with part-time jobs and yes, some European travel as well.”
“I think a gap year is a good idea, unless the kid just drifts off to nothing and never reclaims momentum to do anything else.”
“This path is not the expected one, and that it takes a certain amount of faith, hope and prayers. You do have to deal with the doubts of friends, family, and teachers. But, as I remind myself, I always taught my kids that they should not be conformists and always go with the cookie-cutter expectations.”
“Taking a job after high school can do more than flesh out how much one likes any specific job or line of work. Seeing how hard life can be for the uneducated provides motivation to study harder and get the most out of the time and money spent earning the degree.”
“Just the experience of working for a paycheck and paying real bills (my son moved into his own apartment) can be very helpful. It makes the concept of life after education much more real.”
“All my kids started working part time by 15. Full time in summers. I think having jobs as teenagers is vital. Raising the minimum wage is eliminating this vital opportunity for many.”
“We agreed to the ‘College Reimbursement Plan’. The Bank of Mom & Dad are “reimbursing” them, we have a say in the field of study (we also only pay 100% for “A’s” and 80% for ‘B’s” anything lower is their learning curve).”
“I believe everyone should have the humility to serve others in entry level service industries, just so they remember the experience when they get on the other side of the counter.”
“I had classmates who seemingly had chosen their major by tossing darts at the catalog and going with the first one they hit. Most of them were miserable by their Junior year. I even saw one guy [in an IT degree] … complain bitterly about even having to take any programming classes. Had he worked a year mopping floors for an IT company he might have made a better choice in majors.”
“College provides two benefits — monetary and non-monetary. To the extent one pays for college in order to receive future monetary benefits, that’s called an “investment”. To the extent one pays for college in order to receive non-monetary benefits, that’s called a ‘luxury.’ ”
“Another thing I’ve noticed but rarely heard discussed is that a degree can limit the kinds of jobs you will be selected for… So, yes, you don’t want to rush into getting a degree and locking yourself into a specific field. If you get a business “brand” or an education “brand,” you may have to work extra hard to change brands.
Example Policies of Deferred Admission (Taking a Gap Year)
As a resource, in following are how some colleges accommodate Gap Years (no recommendation of these colleges is inferred).