Not all roads go the same direction for soon-to-be graduates

As we enter the registration period for interim and spring semester, upperclassmen are beginning to look beyond life on the Hill.

This is a stressful period, full of MCATs, GREs, interviews and phone calls. In the coming months, you will probably begin to hear joyful exclamations as Oles receive word that they have snagged their first job or have been accepted to graduate school. But even this joy can give way to anxiety, because entering the real world can be a daunting prospect after four years within the St. Olaf bubble. In order to help us properly approach this transition, the Harry C. Piper Center for Vocation and Career is standing by.

You’ve seen the emails and the advertisements. The Piper Center works to bring us job fairs, information sessions and workshops. They have staff members who focus on different majors and career areas, and they are even running Connections trips across the United States. All of these resources are at our disposal with one goal in mind: to help Oles hit the ground running after graduation.

However, immediately entering a career or moving on to the next phase of schooling are not the only choices. The option of taking a gap year can sometimes be downplayed in our focus on post-graduate success, but the skills and experiences that one can gain from the gap year make it worth considering.

Let’s be clear about what I mean when I talk about a gap year, because some may consider simply living in their parents’ basement a “gap year.” In this context, taking a gap year refers to service and volunteer programs, teaching programs, cultural exchange programs and even seasonal or temporary work. Of these four categories, the first two seem to be the most popular. This is because they each boast highly-renowned programs. The Peace Corps is a very popular option for students looking to volunteer during their gap year, especially because of the international experience it provides. For those looking to stay local, Volunteer USA and AmeriCorps are worth looking into. If you are more interested in teaching programs, Teach For America is a highly recommended option.

Why would a student want to take a gap year? If you already have a good idea about what you want to do after graduation, what reasons could there be for putting it off, especially if you have studied abroad during your time at St. Olaf?

There are some students who cannot wait to get started in graduate school or in their new jobs. There is nothing wrong with making that choice, but Oles ought to understand that taking a gap year can help pad their resumes for an eventual return to the competitive job market. Furthermore, it might very well be the only opportunity to take advantage of these programs before the responsibilities of a long-term career tie you down.

Despite its highly promoted resources for diving straight into a career post-graduation, the Piper Center does not discourage students from taking a gap year. It even has a staff member, Nate Jacobi, to help advise students who are considering it as an option. Regardless of your major, a gap year could be an opportunity that you do not want to miss.

Chris Miller ’15 is from Robbinsdale, Minn. He majors in political science.

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