I've been wondering lately if our traditional model of launching one's career - going directly from college into the workforce, maybe hitting grad school along the way - is the best approach out there. Certainly, it has worked for millions of Americans, including myself, but it's starting to feel antiquated, and I think it can actually do a disservice to individuals and society at large.
What do I think is a better option? Taking a year off before college and joining the workforce to do service, something often referred to as a "gap year." It's been popular in Europe for a long time, and while it's beginning to take flight in the U.S., it's not widely done.
Why Take a Gap Year?
Think about it, many college graduates aren't sure exactly what they want to do for a living. And, truth be told, many don't have the interpersonal skills necessary to excel in the traditional workforce. Taking a year "off" to be of service can help greatly in both areas, as it provides time to potentially identify new passions that can be applied to a future career and offers enormous opportunities to grow as an individual.
Another benefit is building up one's resume. That may sound like a poor motivator to some, but I think it's perfectly acceptable. Job applicants need to stand out from the competition and giving a year of one's life to serve others certainly stands out. As someone who has interviewed and hired many recent college grads, I can honestly say that regardless of how impressive a candidate's grades and internships are, I am much more likely to pay attention to the fact that they gave a year of service. It says to me that they care about others, are willing to try new things, have good character and so much more.
Of course, the societal benefit of the gap year is that issues are being tended to, if not solved, by smart, energetic and dedicated individuals.
Frankly, I can't see any downside to embracing a year of service. It can truly change the life of the individual serving, as well as the world. What could better than that?
Organizations that Support Gap Years
There are several organizations out there that will help coordinate a year of service, also known as national service. However, the primary resource is AmeriCorps, which engages more than 80,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. AmeriCorps places thousands of young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills, earn money for education, and develop an appreciation for being a good citizen.
There are countless opportunities available through AmeriCorps, all of which provide enormous chances to grow and contribute. That said, two of my favorites are Playworks, which I spent a day volunteering for and City Year, which I have worked with many times.
If you are a parent, I hope you will be open to your kids considering a gap year of service. Or, even better, why not encourage it!
If you're a student, give national service some thought. I have a feeling it will change your life and I know it will change our world.