Using Time Wisely During One-Year College Suspension

Question: I've landed myself in suspension, and I can't go back to school until a full year has passed. What do I do in this time period? I can't go to a community college, because suspended students can't transfer any credits. What do I do until this year is up? What kind of things should I accomplish in this year?

Sorry to hear that you're in some hot water. I'm not clear from your question if you'll be returning to your original college once your suspension is over or applying to a new one. But, since you've said "Suspension" and not "Expulsion," I'm going to assume that you haven't been given a permanent heave-ho and do plan to go back to your old college when you can.

My best suggestion for using your time off in a productive way would be to get an internship or job that is related to your major or prospective career. In today's economic climate, where many new college grads aren't finding meaningful work (or any work), it can be a big plus to produce a résumé that includes some experience in your field of interest.

Paid internships, however, tend to be highly competitive. Your chances of landing one while on suspension are probably slim. Sure, you could tell potential employers that you're simply taking a gap year without offering any of the gory details. But you'll probably also be asked for references, which could be a deal-breaker if you need one from a college official.

Unpaid internships, however, are a different story. Some are also competitive, but many are not ... particularly if your "internship" is really just a glorified volunteer job that you've made up for yourself.

For instance, if your major is history, you could trot on down to the closest historic house or museum and offer a chunk of your time. If you're in education or psychology, you can probably find plenty of opportunities to help out in a nearby school, pre-school, after-school program, etc. Aspiring journalists can contact local newspapers and offer to write reviews of area plays, movies, books, restaurants, etc. Whatever your interests, be creative ... try to find a need or niche and fill it.

There is a fine line that separates a "volunteer" post from an "internship." Typically, with an internship you are actually learning some real skills that connect to the field in question, and you are usually working closely with a staff member who is helping you to learn these skills. A volunteer, on the other hand, may do this same sort of meaningful work or, instead, could be assigned to more menial tasks that will assist the organization but which don't provide any significant training. For example, at the aforementioned historic house, a "volunteer" may simply take tickets or sell sodas at the snack bar, while an "intern" might give tours or answer questions more substantive than, "How much is a Diet Pepsi?"

So your goal will be to create a position for yourself that you can honestly dub an "internship" when it's time to put together your résumé or to fill out post-college job applications.

If money is a concern, then your suspension year would also be a good time to get a paying job, even if it's not one that is good résumé fodder later on. In fact, you can probably find a way to hold down a paying job and also take on an internship. Neither one has to be full-time.

In addition, even if you can't earn college credits during your suspension year, it doesn't mean that you can't enroll in non-credit college courses. This could be a good time to start a new foreign language, learn computer programming, or acquire other helpful skills that you might not have time to study during the usual college term.

If you're thinking of transferring to a new college, then success at either a paid job or an internship (or both) would help admission officials to see that, whatever you did to screw up, you've been able to mend your ways and take on new responsibilities. Taking college classes--even not for credit--would work in your favor as well, showing admission folks that you are serious about your education, even when you're not officially in school.

Similarly, if you're considering applying to a different college, you might also want to consider a volunteer job (or internship) that is tied to your infraction. For example, if you were suspended for drug or alcohol-related reasons, you could volunteer at a rehab center or --better yet--design your own program to share the evils of substance abuse with younger teens. This would help admission officials at your transfer school to see that you are taking responsibility for your earlier offense.

Finally, a new college may not have the same restriction on credits earned during your year off. So if you do take some college classes while suspended, you may actually find that some of them do "count," if you transfer.

As the late, great John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." You're in a predicament right now that you may never have anticipated. But it does sound like you want to make the best of your time away from school, and you certainly can. You may end up having experiences that you wouldn't have had if you'd stayed on the traditional four-year track, and you might even find that these experiences will serve you well when you finally do finish college.