There appears to be a gap in the expectations for a gap year. Employers want to see job-applicable experience in a year off, but society seems to deem social service the most admirable path. What this “social service pressure” does not mention is that you can spend less money, see more of the world, make an impact, and discover yourself while simultaneously improving your future career opportunities during a professional gap year. Here’s what the programs don’t tell you:

Stay in the green

Let’s begin with the topic that will always come up first: money. Pre-paid volunteer gap years can run you $40,000 into the red. On the professional track, you may get paid for your work, greatly lessening any financial burden. In addition, food and lodging expenses are under your control, so you can find the best value for your buck.

Taste your cake and leave it, too

Signing on with a volunteer program comes with a major risk: being locked in an arena you can’t wait to leave. Before I left to India, I believed my future career would be in social entrepreneurism. After two weeks of near 120-degree heat, waking up with cockroaches on my legs, and straining to overcome language barriers there, I realized I didn’t have the skill set to be working on site. Needless to say, I knew within fourteen days that this was not what I wanted to dedicate my life to. The professional gap year student can dedicate far less time to worrying about disliking a potential internship because the average position runs from two to four months. Not to mention organizing your own year gives you flexibility to make adjustments as you go along.

Keep working

Working professionally, as opposed to touring or volunteering, prevents you from falling out of real life pressure and demands. In my internships, I still have daily deadlines to meet, strict regimes to maintain, and work at home to do. While this approach creates industry connections for my future, it also allows me to approach school “backwards.” Instead of going to school to learn the skills I need for my dream job, I am learning the essentials in real time and will then go to school to perfect them. The break from academia also gives me time to recognize the value of an education and re-ignite my craving to learn.

It is important to note that life is not just about getting a job or earning college credentials. But if you want to be a pro athlete, why would you wait another year before strengthening your skills? Likewise, if you want to be a professional, why would you spend a free year not doing something professional? In my perspective, if I am going to spend some forty plus hours a week in a given field for the next forty years of my life, I want to know that I enjoy it! I would rather explore my passions in real time before making a “major” decision — literally for college, and figuratively for my career. Or, worse yet, wishing I could undo it all at some later point in my life.

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