8 top tips for applying to collegeMarlene Kern Fischer
Surely our students need to be plugging along that well-trodden path — high school, college, high-flying job — and hiring managers hate to see any detours.
Maybe not. My own grant-funded gap year gave me the opportunity to do a comparative research study on women’s rights in England and France. I interviewed ordinary people in two cities, on the street and in their homes. I lived with host families, visited rural communities with the local priest for seven course Sunday lunches (I dream today of all that wine and fois gras that I then took so totally for granted!). I DJ'ed for a French community radio station, designed and made my own funky clothes, and navigated buses, trains and airports across Europe.
Gaps can be that defining “road not taken” that inspires career direction or makes a job candidate stand out from the herd and have something different to say.
The experience gave me the confidence and interview skills to take risks in college I wouldn't have considered straight from high school, like auditioning as a singer for a student band and founding a women’s theatre group. My gap year was invariably a talking point during interviews senior year and beyond and the key factor in landing my first internships and jobs in marketing and fashion buying. Interviewing, facilitating, researching and presenting have been key aspects of my career ever since.
Fast forward to my daughter. She is a couple months into her first year of college but began submitting work-study applications before she left home in August. Her resumé was full of her gap year experiences living and working several different jobs in Norway (hotel waitress, nanny, swim instructor) while learning Norwegian, as well as traveling independently across Europe.
She was offered at least three work-study jobs — all the more competitive, off-campus ones. Her gap year experiences put her on a level with sophomores competing for these internships and were cited as the main reason she was interviewed. The job she accepted, at an international non-profit, told her that the independence and openness to new experiences she demonstrated in her gap year and talked about during the interview were exactly what they were looking for in an intern or permanent hire. They were convinced enough to offer her the position despite her limited availability due to a heavy course load.
Gap years need not be expensive, academically focused or organized by an official organization to be effective. For the most part my daughter paid her own way during her gap year, and learning to manage and value money was another crucial work/life experience. Gap years also don’t need to happen before college. I know students who have taken gap years midway through college and others who took one or more gap years after graduation or even a couple of years into their working lives. None appear to have any regrets. On the contrary, all have similar tales to tell of how their gap years helped them fill resumés, get interviews and then have something to say that set them apart from the competition. Even their parents recognized the benefits in hindsight, although the idea of a break concerned them at the time.
Looked at this way, taking some time off may be the best investment your son or daughter can make for their future career. Gaps can be that defining “road not taken” that inspires career direction or makes a job candidate stand out from the herd and have something different to say. They should not be something to fear — but to celebrate!
Liza Purvis has been writing everything from letters to the editor to edge-of-your-seat strategy reports since her first "novel" was handwritten in a (tragically long lost) green notebook at age 14. Having attended college in the UK, she is experiencing being a parent in the American college system for the first time. With three daughters — two in college, one in middle school — she is more up to date on the ins and outs of FAFSA and CSS than she ever hoped to be.
Be sure to read her daughter Grace's gap year experience posts, one written before she left ("Dear Mom and Dad: I Want to Take a Gap Year") and one halfway through ("For Mom,With Gratitude and Love").