Last Updated: Apr 15, 2019
You're getting ready to graduate college, and the pressure is on to write that last great paper: your résumé. But what if you're not sure you're ready to settle down, buy a suit, get a mortgage, and work nine-to-five until you retire? The first 20 or so years of your life have been planned for you, so now is your chance to sit back and ask yourself: is this really what I want?
If your answer isn't exactly what your parents wanted, you may start to wonder, do I really have a choice? Luckily, there may be more options.
You've heard of the "gap year" before: a year spent traveling, finding yourself, taking amazing selfies, seeing the world—an education in its own right. Gap years are most popular between high school and college, so as a soon-to-be college grad, you've missed your window, right? Wrong.
If you're not ready for the "real world" just yet and you want to stretch your proverbial wings a little before you find your white picket fence, now is the time to do it. You're likely not married, with no kids and no mortgage, and, ideally, you’ll have your parents' house or help to fall back on if you need it. It isn't for everyone, but if you're graduating and want to try something new, think about taking an updated gap year: your transition between nearly two decades of education and the world of nine-to-five.
If you're lucky enough to have the flexibility to travel after graduation, do it. Take some time off before you start your "real job" and go someplace new. Even if it's not a grand Eurotrip, broadening your horizons to new experiences, places, and people is a valuable résumé builder. There are lots of organized trips for 18–30-somethings, ranging from a few days to a few weeks, and they cover experiences all over the world.
Some young travelers pick up jobs along the way, or if you're in a field where you can work remotely, who says you can't bring a new job on the road? There are lots of ways to work and travel simultaneously—but more on that later.
One of the most obvious choices for college grads who don't want to leave school is to simply not to. But it bears repeating: grad school can be a great option, especially if you're in a field where a higher degree opens up more doors or a big pay increase. It's not the same as undergrad, but depending on your area of study, your full-time job is still learning. You can stay at the same university, go someplace new, or go online and work part time, keeping one foot in the academic world while throwing the other into the great unknown.
With four years of experience under your belt, you know what opportunities to take advantage of, what to avoid, and how to make your additional years of education really count.
Disney College Program
If you're truly ready to be done with school, there are lots of programs out there that have a college-like feel while giving you real-world job experience. One of these is the Disney College Program. Disney offers the opportunity for college students and recent grads to work in many areas of their parks in Orlando or Anaheim, gaining customer service and operations experience at one of the best companies in the business. Programs run during the summer and school year, so if you have time the semester after you graduate, over a summer, or a combination of the two, this is a great opportunity to get a tan and some great experience for your résumé.
Work and travel at the same time
As promised: the work + travel option. If you're ready to start working but want to change things up a bit, moving to a new place can be a great idea. Whether it's moving to the big city, across an ocean, or just someplace you've always wanted to go, there are plenty of opportunities to explore—and likely plenty of jobs to help fuel your adventure. If there are lots of jobs in your field in a far-off place, try securing one before you leave (there are many programs out there that can help with this), or if you can work online, you can take your job with you almost anywhere you want. If you want to travel internationally, many countries offer working holiday visas that allow young adults (there's usually an age cut-off somewhere in your 30s) to live in a country for an extended time and work in different jobs while they travel.
Interning is another great way to gain experience without feeling quite like you have a permanent, "real" job. Internships are designed to give you real-world experience and let you learn while you do so: the epitome of on-the-job training. Some are paid, others are not, and they can come in many different forms.
Internships are also a great option if you want to try out a lot of different things or don't know what you want to do with your degree yet, as they're usually designed to be temporary. The one thing internships have in common is that they're one of the best ways to learn new skills while you're working.
If you're ready to move to a far-off place and make your mark on the world, then you might consider the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Peace Corps is usually a two-year program where you live and work in a foreign country, volunteering in areas like education, health care, or agriculture. Volunteers, despite the name, are compensated. AmeriCorps is similar but usually caps out at a year and doesn't require a passport. Both programs are open to anyone over 18 and typically don't require any experience. These programs are a great opportunity to explore a part of the world you may not have seen otherwise and experience a new culture firsthand.
But volunteering can mean a lot of different things. There are many programs similar to the Peace Corps (though without the government backing) that match volunteers with efforts across the globe, ranging in length, activity, and opportunity for compensation. Volunteering locally is another great way to add experience to your résumé, make new connections, and help out those in need. Whether it's related to your field or not, if you’re across the globe or across town, giving your time is an opportunity that you may not have in the same way once you join the "real world."
Taking a gap year can be an amazing experience. Whether you decide to join a program like the Disney College Program or the Peace Corps, move to a big city or even abroad to go to grad school, or go someplace new to volunteer, there are a lot of ways to bridge college and the real world while getting experience to help you down the line.
If you're lucky enough to get the time to take a gap year, or whatever your own version may look like, take it—your degree will still be waiting for you when you get back.