Work and Study for Gap Year?

Question: I’m going to take a gap year after I finish high school. I want to find a job in any place in the U.S. But what job I could do so it will look good in my résumé when I apply for college? And also I would like to take a few courses in college so I could raise my GPA, can I do that?

College admission officials are typically big fans of gap years. They often find that taking time off after high school can make students more focused and, of course, more mature than they were at 18. As you embark on your gap year experience, ideally you would find a job that is related to your prospective major or career goal. This might bolster your admission chances by demonstrating interest in your future plans. But, with only a high school diploma on your bedroom wall, you may discover that your choices are limited. For instance, if your aim is for medical school or law school, you won’t be able to land a spot as a brain surgeon or litigator without a lot more education. Even entry-level jobs (e.g., receptionists) in such fields are often reserved for those with a college degree or at least some education beyond high school.  On the other hand, there are certainly plenty of careers that require a college degree and yet also offer opportunities for those without one (e.g., food service and hospitality, retail and merchandising, and many more). So, depending on what you expect to study, you might be wise to seek out a related job.

But even if your long-term goals don’t mesh well with a short-term, ground-floor position, fear not. The college folks also love to see applicants who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty by tackling minimum-wage work. So just about any job you can find (supermarket cashier, ice-cream scooper, hotel maid, fast-food clerk) will “look good” on an application. When it comes to impressing admission committees, the only jobs you may want to avoid are those where your boss is obviously a parent or other close relative. Babysitting jobs for family friends also may not be as eye-catching as those that require you to interact with strangers and to go to an actual workplace each day that isn’t the next-door neighbor’s sandbox. 😉

Keep in mind, too, that even if you end up with a low-paying job that isn’t at all linked to your academic or career ambitions, you can still prove your passions to the college folks by doing volunteer work that is.With many of your high school friends away at college, you may notice that you have lots of free time on your hands, and so volunteering can not only be a good way to occupy that time but also to make new friends, which you may not be able to do while you’re manning the drive-through window at Dunkin Donuts all alone.

But don’t forget that will also have to factor costs into your job choice. If you want to live “any place in the U.S.”, can you afford housing or are you going to look for a position where housing is provided? (Not easy to find but sometimes possible) Will your parents give you the green light to live on your own?

As for taking community classes, note that the grades you earn in these classes will not be included in your GPA. So if your high school grades weren’t great, don’t expect to bolster your average, even with straight A’s at a community college. BUT … you can definitely submit your community college transcript separately, and a strong showing in these classes can help a lot to offset more mediocre high school marks. It can also show admission officials that you’re ready to buckle down now, even if you weren’t when you were younger.

WARNING: Earning credits after high school could move you from “freshman applicant” status to “transfer applicant” status. Taking only a couple classes won’t do this, except in a handful of cases. For instance, some public universities (e.g., the University of California campuses) consider any student to be a transfer if he or she took college classes before applying. This is not a common practice, but, if you have an idea of where you hope to go to college, you should check with admission officials there now to find out how many credits you are allowed to earn before being considered a transfer.

For many teenagers, a gap year can be a smart move, but my most important advice to all prospective gappers is to have a plan in place. It can sound like a great idea while you’re still in high school to take time off after graduation. But, come September, as you watch all your friends pile into minivans loaded with bulging bags from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, you might feel that you are at loose ends, unless you know exactly what you’ll be doing for the months just ahead.