The Gap Year: What You Should Do Instead Of Going To Grad School Or Getting An Entry-Level Job

by Jane Lightfoot

Congratulations! It’s graduation season. It's time to do what so many us have worked toward for four years: walking across that stage.

But, after you get your diploma (and an invitation to the Alumni Association), what happens next? Usually, it’s graduate school or an entry-level job, but if you accidentally took the GED instead of the GRE, or can’t stand the thought of getting your suit pressed, here are a few other options.

Take a year off. Most people go straight from high school to college, and now, there’s finally an opportunity to blow off everything, avoid commitments and take a nontraditional route to "real life."

Do nothing, catch up on the reality television you’ve missed, go off grid, avoid responsibility, and most importantly, don’t worry about how you’ll explain it later if you do decide to go back to school or get a job.

Closely related to the “take a year off” school of thought is the “I’m still basically in college” school of thought. Maybe you realized that organic chemistry was actually pretty hard and you studied your spring break away or never got the chance to go abroad.

A lot of people go into college dreaming of freedom and independence, but most of us get thrown for a loop when our college of choice expects us to actually enroll in classes.

So, make your college bucket list and check off all of those things — infamous parties, service opportunities and cool hangouts — while you still look like you’re 21.

If you did live it up and still managed to stumble across that graduation stage, maybe a breather is in order. Go ahead and reminisce about the good old days.

Once you’ve had some time for yourself, you’ll realize this may be the first time ever that you’ve had the chance to find yourself. Usually it’s only retirees that get to have hobbies and interests, but if you’re anything like me, you just declared a major because the school (and your parents and people on the street) said it was time.

Find some hobbies — some real ones that you actually enjoy.

The world doesn’t need another “reader” who hasn’t finished a book in the past calendar year; the world could use a couple more hikers, beekeepers, stamp collectors, crafters or people who are just generally doing what they want.

Learn something without getting a grade, without the promise of a GPA boost.

This is also a great time to fail at something and to fail big. You’ll never be as free to do something crazy as you are right now; you’re already broke and clueless.

Starting a business, learning to skydive, trying out for to be a Dallas Cowboy’s cheerleader or standing in the American Idol audition line seems a lot crazier the older you get. With no grades and no one looking over your shoulder, you should feel free to fail as big as possible.

If failing isn’t something for which you can strive, you can live your fantasy. Who hasn’t wanted to be the cool bartender, guitarist at the local coffee shop, scuba diver or micro beer connoisseur?

This is the moment. Maybe being a personal trainer and nail artist isn’t just a weird pipe dream.

Service is a big part of many extracurricular activities in college, but maybe you weren’t particularly invested in you’re organization’s chosen cause or even avoided it like the plague. Now’s the perfect time to learn how privileged you really are.

Help the children, puppies, endangered species, trees, families, students or any other group you will learn to love, or start your own.

Most of us, no matter if we get a job, move home or to a whole new place will have to do one thing: learn how to be a local. For four years, we’ve been those weird youngins who have ruined the town with help from our higher institution of learning and solo cups. Now, we’re just regular folks.

Even if you just go back to your childhood bedroom, things have probably changed since you left initially. Go and find the cool hangouts, meet the weird people who live in your town and figure out what adult extracurricular activities mean, like what the rotary club actually does.

If everything else seems too tame, then this is also the perfect time to gain street cred from your future grandkids. Go on a pancake tour of America, go spelunking, be the weird guy who hangs out at the bar at 2 pm, move to New York, Los Angeles or another cliché place.

Try a lifestyle with which your family wouldn’t agree -- learn to shoot a gun or become a hippie. Get some sketchy roommates and actually bond with them.

If all else fails, get yourself a dead-end job. Nothing will scare you like retail, customer service, the fast food industry or manual labor.

If you knew you were born to be a lawyer or investment banker, then by all means, press your suit. For the rest of us, it’s more important to not spend a couple more tens of thousands dollars or more importantly, a few decades learning and putting all of our energy into something that only ends up not making us happy.

Photo via Patagonia Tumblr