The biggest question on any college student’s mind is, “What am I going to do after graduation?”

After four solid years of partying, studying, and finding themselves, every student is faced with the tough task of deciding what happens next in their life. College life was fun, but you can’t be a student. forever. Graduation eventually comes around and what happens next is entirely up to you.

Graduation means you’re officially an adult. You are staring down the barrel of a 9-5 job with all the office politics and responsibillities that come with it. You kiss those 3 month summer vacations you’ve enjoyed your whole life goodbye, but gain the chance to truly make an impact on the world.

So, the question becomes, is there a rush to move on? Do university students have to hop straight into the workforce, getting that head start on their career, or should they take some time to have a break, travel the world, and truly find themselves?

Should I apply for that job?..... Should I apply for law school? .....Should I go travel? ....Should I go home and work at my old job?....

Should I apply for that job?….. Should I apply for law school? …..Should I go travel? ….Should I go home and work at my old job?….

Starting your career or returning to school right away sounds like the responsible choices, but can be harmful as they may cause you to burn out. (Your brain may be a wee bit tired after just finishing four years of university). However, traveling on the other hand, while sounding fun (which it is) may not be the best choice either since the competition for a good career has never been tougher.

Taking the gap year

The pros for taking a gap year depend on what you plan on actually doing. A gap year is the year after university (or usually after high school), where you essentially take a a year off from school and work to do whatever you want. Travel the world, volunteer overseas, write a book, the world is your oyster (till money runs out at least); there are even websites to help you decide.

However, just make sure what you do is meaningful.

I don’t mean everyone has to do something huge like write a book or attempt to cure cancer, but wasting your year would just be, well, a waste. Your gap year is your best chance to do whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. Never again will you have so much freedom. Think about it, most students graduating from college have no kids, no mortgage payments, no job, no homework, and therefore no commitments. Take this chance and do something special.

So, what can you do?

Traveling is of course a must. Go surfing in Australia, backpack through Europe, or live in the city lights of Shanghai. You don’t have to see every country in the world, but by immersing yourself in other cultures, you will learn new things about the world as well as yourself.

Volunteering is also a great thing to do. Many people take off overseas to help others in developing countries. The experience can be rewarding for both themselves and those they help along the way. However, just make sure if you volunteer overseas that you are sure you are actually helping. “Voluntarism,” as it is now being called, can sometimes be worse than doing nothing as some companies make profits off the good hearts of westerners by exploiting the local poverty.

If money is short, creating a side project is a great way to spend your year off. Learn how to play a musical instrument, create a website, write a book, take some art classes, or learn how to fix your car.   People always have some sort of skill they want to develop but just never find the time to do so. Learning a sweet new skill will do you wonders in life and may lead you to another path you may have never thought existed.

Reasons a gap year could be positive

  • Time to reflect on your life. Re-examine your values, interests and future goals
  • Learn new languages and cultures from traveling
  • Meet new friends and make connections you normally would have never made
  • Chance to branch out from your degree and test out other professions
  • Good for your resume. Employers like to see an applicant that has experienced other cultures and is different from the rest of the herd
  • Discover things that cannot be taught in a classroom
  • See things you may never, ever get the chance to see again
  • Time to calm your brain

However, as cool as everything sounds, sometimes the gap year isn’t the best idea for some.

The Money

Money can be a major issue, especially after paying tuition for the past four years, so taking off for a year with minimal or no wages may not be the best idea. Traveling or not working for a year will obviously put you further into debt, giving you an even bigger headache when you return from your gap year. It may be best for some to start looking for work or ways to pay off their debts first before they decide to travel the world.

However, I’m not saying that people with debt shouldn’t take their year off. All I’m saying is it is important to have an idea on how you will be repaying this debt when you return from your year off. If you are leaving university without the proper skills needed for your desired job or you have no clue on how you will pay pack these debts when you return, maybe some time should be spent sorting out these factors beforehand. Taking the gap year should be a way to cool your mind and find yourself, not escape your debts.

Hitting the workforce

Some people are excited to start their careers and that is awesome.

As aforementioned, the competition for jobs has never been greater so starting work right away has many advantages. You begin to start earning a solid salary and paying off your debts while many of your friends are still sinking lower and lower into their credit while they take that year off. Having no debts means you start spending your money in other ways, whether it is through investing, buying a house, or in other fun ways.

Group of young executives having a meeting

 

Diving straight into your career is also good as you never skip a beat from university to your professional career. We all forget stuff over the summer so just imagine what you might forget over an entire year off from school or work. This way you get the ball rolling right away and you can start working on some sweet projects while also getting paid for them. Win win.

However, as mentioned before, going straight into work may cause you to burn out as your brain may be saying “no way” after four long years of university. Therefore, it is best to truly ask yourself if you are ready. Starting your career is not like starting another year of school. Your career is a much longer and much bigger commitment. Being ready will not only lead to you being happier and healthier, but also you being the best employee you can be.

Staying in Academia

If more schooling is needed for your dream job, then you may be stuck in the middle of all of these options, asking yourself whether you should go straight into your post-undergraduate studies or if you should take that break to travel or start working. School is always a great idea, but a graduate degree is something you should not just hop into.

Graduate degrees are expensive…like major debt expensive. Getting that MBA or law degree is going to cost an arm and leg so it’s very important to decide whether this is exactly what you want. If you are going to put yourself down $10,000 to $100,000 dollars in debt, you want to be sure you are going to enjoy doing that job for a while. Do not just enter graduate school because you’re confused with what you want to do or you can’t find a job right away. Doing that may just lead you to being more confused and more stressed.

 

Waiting a bit before entering graduate school will also make graduate school more useful when you eventually attend. Robert Farrington, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, spoke about this issue, stating that he regretted going to grad school at such a young age since he couldn’t contribute as much as others.

For Farrington, he says graduate school should be about combining your work experience with your degree, not just getting another degree. Too often are people just getting degrees and not getting the proper experience and therefore falling into a trap at their jobs. Just because you have an MBA or another graduate degree, does not mean you will get an entry level position. You need experience as well. As Farrington states, “Going to grad school right after college is not a substitute for real world work.”

Yet in the end, whether you choose to travel, volunteer, work, study, or just hang out on your couch, the decision is entirely up to you. Nobody knows you better than yourself. Asking yourself questions like, “Is this worth it?” and “What do I really want?” is important when it comes down to making the big decision. Plus, traveling, work, and grad schools are not going anywhere soon, so the decision does not have be final. Your commitments will slowly build as you get older, so if you can, the faster you decide the better. But you also have all the time in the world when you’re in your 20s. Relax. Don’t waste time! But don’t stress.