Many college grads aren't going straight into a "real" job right
after graduation. Instead, they're choosing activities like those above
for a few months.
Experts, including those at colleges and universities, say these activities
can be extremely valuable. However, there are dangers to watch for.
As many as one in 10 graduates chooses to postpone a "real" job, estimates
U.S. News and World Report. Exact figures aren't available, but the trend
seems to be growing.
"It's impossible to do real studies on taking time off, particularly
after college, because no one knows exactly what that means," says Ron Lieber.
He's the author of Taking Time Off and a senior writer with Fast Company
magazine. "I think there's more acceptance of it as a phenomenon."
Lieber points out that many college grads get jobs that are somewhat related
to their degrees. Others just travel, while others volunteer or take a job
completely unrelated to their studies. All this variety makes it hard to say
exactly how popular postponing a "real" job is.
Cornelius Bull has noticed a large growth in interest in what he calls
"interim programs." Bull started the Center for Interim Programs over 20 years
ago. It places 300 students a year in alternate situations. Some of these
include working on an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka, cooking on a tall ship
in the Caribbean, working in the rainforests of Costa Rica and teaching English
Bull describes the interest as "tremendous." He says the chance to travel
or work abroad is part of becoming an adult for many young people.
"We've taken away all the rites of passage," Bull says. "You don't
have to slay a lion anymore to demonstrate your manhood. We've made life
very easy for kids, and I think they feel that.
"They're anxious to take some control of their lives. All they've
done all their lives is go to school."
The center also deals with recent high school grads, college students still
working on degrees as well as "48-year-old burned-out lawyers."
Besides wanting to feel independent, there are other reasons college grads
take time off. Some just need to take a break after four years of hard work
in school. Others want to see the world and become more well-rounded. And
some want a chance to reassess their priorities -- to answer the question:
what do I want out of life?
"They want to explore the world and travel before they get stuck in a job,"
says Linda McFarlane. She works with a university career services department.
Many college grads don't have to start paying off student loans until
six months after graduation. They see this time as a great opportunity.
"When you have this yawning space staring at you in the face, it's
very difficult to resist the urge to do something really off-the-wall with
it," says Lieber. "It's entirely possible that you'll never have
a block of time that large again as long as you live."
Lieber knows grads who've worked on political campaigns, volunteered
in foreign countries and even traveled with a band while selling concert T-shirts.
"All of those things display a certain zest for life, a certain verve, that
someone who puts the gray flannel suit on the day after graduation may not
possess," Lieber says.
Stacey Oleksuk is a college graduate. She chose to spend seven
months teaching English in Japan. "I decided to go to Japan because I wanted
an opportunity to learn about a culture first-hand," she says.
She says she received many benefits from her experience. "By living and
working in Japan, I learned some of the language, a lot about the culture
and the people, and most of all, about my own country," she says.
"Living in Japan also taught me to appreciate the differences between cultures,"
Oleksuk adds. "I understand better that every culture has its benefits and
its drawbacks and no country is better than another."
The broader perspective a person gains is the reason many colleges encourage
students to take time off. If the student hasn't had a broad range of
experiences before college, right after college might be a great time.
"We always encourage students to explore the world, get experience, do
volunteer work [or] travel," says McFarlane.
McFarlane advises students not to do just anything. Instead, they should
plan ahead to get the most out of the experience. "There's so many things
you can learn, but think about it and plan for it and figure out what you
Not all students are free to postpone a "real" job. With the high cost
of education, they may feel the pressure to start paying back student loans
Students also have to consider whether their skills will become rusty or
outdated. This is especially true if their education is in a high-tech field.
"The skills are going to deteriorate, there's no question," says instructor
Keith Black. He teaches at a technical institute.
"We've seen people who take even a month or two months off come back
and say in interviews, 'Boy, you know, I haven't touched that technology
for two months.' That starts to chip away at a potential employer's
Black says it's "extremely rare" for graduates of his institute to
take time off. They know how fast technology changes and don't want to
be left behind.
Any student who takes time off needs to explain the value of their experience
to future employers. Basically, if they can explain "why they have a transferable
skill set that an employer can use, like the eagerness to learn and grow,
it may not have that big an impact," Black says.
Lieber agrees that the key is explaining the value of your time off. Then,
the experience can be an asset when seeking future employment.
"It depends on your ability to tell a good story about what it is that
you were doing [and] what you learned from it," Lieber says. "What employers
are looking for these days is people who are independent, who think creatively,
who have big ideas and who have some exposure to the world at large."
There are many exciting options for young people who want to experience
the world after college. You're only limited by your imagination (and
perhaps finances). Just make sure your choice fits you.
Lieber sums it up this way: "It should be time spent doing something that
you're really passionate about, that gives you some insight as to what
you might want to do next, or how you might want to do what you already have
been doing differently or in a better way."