With the end of the year around the corner, many graduating seniors are finalizing post-graduation plans, and those still in school are just starting to explore these kinds of possibilities.
Assistant Director of Career Services Jennifer McConnell said gap year programs have steadily increased in popularity in recently.
The biggest programs are still the Peace Corps, Teach for America and AmeriCorps.
These three usually attract the largest number of students and have seen an increase in application numbers and stricter acceptance requirements.
“Part of the increase is the economy, but I think part of it is that there is such a strong commitment and focus on service at Butler,” McConnell said.
She said students really want to give back to others and pursue these opportunities.
Senior history major Taylor Newell, who is currently waiting to hear back from AmeriCorps, said commitment to service was an important part of his decision.
“I believe pretty strongly that Americans should donate more time and effort to serving their communities,” Newell said.
According to last year’s data, about 4 percent of survey respondents from the class of 2010 chose to do a gap year program.
“It’s really interesting to see how patterns emerge. Even in this tough economy, 93 percent of the class of 2010 was where they wanted to be, either doing a gap year, employed, or in graduate school,” McConnell said.
McConnell said taking some time off to be in a different environment can really help students discover what they’d like to do.
“If I would have gone to grad school immediately after my degree, I would have gotten my degree in something different,” McConnell said. “It’s very helpful to take the time to hone in and figure out what you are passionate about.”
Program Coordinator at Internship and Career Services Mona Guirguis also said it can be a unique learning experience.
“The gap year is an ideal opportunity to reflect on future career paths and academic choices, experience a different culture, meet new people and see new places,” Guirguis said.
Guirguis also said it’s important for students to take time to identify their goals and what they’d like to gain out of the experience.
“The main thing is to know yourself and your motivations for completing a gap year experience,” she said.
When it comes to researching gap year programs, McConnell recommends that students take the time to obtain printed information and pamphlets, all of which are available at Internship and Career Services.
Having access to information on paper is also an added security measure.
“There are a lot of scams out there, so we keep a nice little library of gap year programs for students to check out,” McConnell said.
Students have also become increasingly interested in international internships. “The whole idea of the gap year is somewhat new to the states,” McConnell said.
She said that going abroad specifically helps students get the full international experience by learning a foreign language, adapting to different environments and relating to other cultures.
Guirguis agreed that a gap year abroad helps open students to an experience outside of their comfort zone and helps them learn to handle different situations on their own.
However, McConnell said there is a wealth of great gap year opportunities within the United States as well. Programs such as Teach for America and AmeriCorps place students directly in a service role with disadvantaged populations.
Newell said he decided to pursue a gap year program because the year after college would be the best opportunity to do so.
His AmeriCorps assignment would consist of working in small teams on various community development projects around the country.
“What I really hope to get from the program is a sense of pride in serving, as well as some valuable experience in working with a team,” he said.