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Mind the Gap: Why You (Yes, You) Should Consider a Gap Year

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories examining the gap year, based on the research of recent Philadelphia University graduate Veronica Moul.

It is typical for college students in their senior year to suddenly become concerned with finding a job after graduating. After all, that is the point of going to college. I am one of those college students who did not really consider what to do after graduating from Philadelphia University until my final months in school. However, aware of my resources, I became very close to the Career Services available to me. I dedicated time once a week to go to career counseling and openly discuss what I was looking for and who I am. One day, I realized what I wanted and told my counselor "I want something in between college and work," to which she replied, "gap year."

I heard the term gap year before, but associated it with high school graduates in the UK. In fact, there is very little research and information about gap years for people after college in the U.S. I wanted to know more about what I could do with a gap year, and I was also looking for a topic for my senior capstone project. I decided to create a blog to help redefine the concept of gap years by targeting U.S. college graduates.

The new definition I'd like to create for the gap year goes something like this:
a period of time between four months and two years doing something planned out and purposeful, which is different from the mundane and everyday.

Not only can this be applied to high school or college graduates, but gap years can also be used between any levels of schooling, between two jobs, change of careers, between working and retirement, or any other transitional period.

Because of the diversity of people taking gap years, and variety of what a person can do during their gap year, I chose to title my blog Widen the Gap. That's where I post research and ideas, as well as interviews with people taking gap years and the personas I developed for people looking to take a gap year. While developing personas, I realized the importance of collaboration. Although I am a creative individual, I do not have the background of a graphic designer. I approached a friend, who is in school for graphic design, and proposed we combine our talents to create icons for the personas.

The icons she produced are beautiful, and helped flesh out the seven personas: The Brain, The Bohemian, The Teacher, The Advocate, The Professional, The Adventurer, and The Faithful. In addition to names and icons, there are also interests, motivation, a scenario, and resources relating to each persona. While not every person will relate to a persona, perhaps other people will be interested in more than one. I developed the personas to help people in the U.S. interested in a gap year get started on their planning and research.

Now before you start trying to decide which gap year persona relates to you, there is an important thing to keep in mind. A gap year is not a time to do nothing or an excuse for not diving into the job market. I created a survey that was sent to over 4,000 employers to gauge their perceptions of what a gap year is. Receiving a 10 percent response rate, I learned that a gap year can be beneficial, harmful, or unimportant when looking for employment. It is important to know how to turn your gap year into a resume-worthy addition, which should not be too hard since volunteering, working, traveling, and learning are common gap-year endeavors.

Through my research, survey, and persona development, I aim to bring awareness to the gap year in the U.S. and open it to a broader range of people. Universities need to be knowledgeable about gap year opportunities so students have another option beside continuing with education or plunging into the workforce.

On the other hand, employers need to be informed about how to detect a well-planned gap year and that a gap year participant can bring positive and unusual experiences to the company. This series will illustrate that, as well as the gap year spirit and lifestyle, different gap year options, and what might happen after a gap year ends, so stay tuned -- and mind the gap.

VERONICA MOUL grew up in southern New Jersey and is one of the first four graduates from the Professional Communication program at Philadelphia University. When she is not traveling the globe, or developing genius ideas, she can be found reading up on social media or playing board games with friends. Send feedback here.

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