The prospect of beginning an undergraduate or graduate college career can be daunting, especially for those who are not certain what subjects they would like to study, would like to travel or just need a little time off.
In situations like these, some may consider taking a gap year in order to postpone the commitment of college, organize their thoughts and discover their interests.
Autumn Collins, the career counseling manager at the University of New Mexico’s Office of Career Services, spoke in favor of gap years for people in this position.
“I believe that allowing a gap year for students can be so beneficial to their long-term human development as well as their career development,” she said.
However, Collins said that the most valuable work experiences would be those that are related to your major.
“Once you decide on a major, a job, if you have interest in that field whatsoever, is always going to heighten that experience,” she said. “If you don’t have interest in the field, and you’re just doing it for money, that’s fine too, but finding work that is related to your field is way more valuable and important.”
There are a number of options for those who are undecided about their interests. Collins said traveling abroad, internships or AmeriCorps are all options for students who are not ready to enter college.
“Career development incorporates self-discovery. What do they like to do? Do they like to travel? Do they like to help people? Maybe they do an internship with a nonprofit.You just have to get out and do something that inspires you in some way,” she said.
Travel is a common method for many, including Jenna Crabb, the director of Career Services.
“I took a gap year between high school and coming to school (at UNM). I lived in Spain. And I also took a gap year between undergraduate and graduate to kind of figure (out) really what graduate program I wanted to go towards,” she said.
Crabb said there are both pros and cons to taking a gap year, and it depends on each individual’s needs.
“One of the best things about Career Services is we work with students from day one,” she said. “That’s the beauty of what we do, let’s make this degree work for you, not you work for your degree.”
Crabb said she acknowledges that no matter what job someone has, they will learn valuable skills, but if it is not what they want to do as a career, taking time to come meet with the staff at Career Services can help hone in on career paths.
Gap years can also be applicable for students who are already enrolled in college but are not yet satisfied with their position.
Reed Franco, a junior at UNM, was originally enrolled at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. After completing his sophomore year, he ventured on an 11-month trip, visiting 14 different countries, including Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India and Ireland.
“I started my trip off in Nepal, and I was there for two months. I did a half-a-month trek and then a month of (volunteering) after the 2015 earthquakes,” Franco said. He said the trek was “The trip of a lifetime.”
“A lot of people want to take a gap year to see the world and see culture,” he said. “For me, it really forces you just to grow, and have confidence in the world and people. And that was my purpose. It was so much self-growth, and that is what I think really was the No. 1 thing of my trip.”
To others who are considering traveling during a gap year, Franco offered some advice.
“Don’t have expectations,” he said. “My expectations were to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and that is the stupidest thing now looking back at it. You learn more things about yourself, but it’s not like you come back and you’re totally knowing who you are. As soon as you surrender to the travelling, that’s when you get to learn more about yourself and the world.”
Austin Tyra is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @AustinATyra.