Gap Year: Service as Professional Development


1. Stand out in your graduate school applications

Life experience, as well as community service experience, can be hard to gain when you spend most of your time going to school and studying in your “spare” time. If you apply to college or graduate school immediately after you graduate, you may have a hard time writing essays on what you’ve accomplished outside of academia. A service year places you in a community where you address critical needs; where you will gain both real-world and community service experience (all while getting paid) that may provide you with a killer narrative for the essay portion of your college or grad school applications.

2. Develop real-world skills

A service year provides you with a chance for hands-on experience to gain skills in the field you hope to study. Think of it as a gap year with a purpose. Shadowing professionals in a desired field can be educational, but will not always give you the hands-on experience that will help you stand out to top schools. Through a service year, you will strengthen your areas of weakness before applying to college or graduate school—whether it be communication, compassion, collaboration, or cultural competency. During a year of service, you will gain a better understanding of the challenges facing underserved communities.

3. Earn money for school or to pay a student loan

School is expensive. Until that changes, a service year can help. If you want to take a gap year to pay down your student loan debt or if you want to get ahead and start saving for the cost of college or graduate school, you can do so. As an example, AmeriCorps offers a living allowance while you serve and an Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is gifted after completion of your service year.

4. Develop relationships for letters of recommendation

You may not know mayor or members of Congress personally, but a service year can introduce you to high profile people in your community. During your service year, you meet a lot of people that you can add to your professional network. Sure, professors and mentors from high school or undergrad write great letters of recommendations, but recommendations from members of a local community discussing your year of service looks good on college or graduate school applications.

5. Impact a community while finding your path

Through a service year, you may figure out what you’re passionate about while making a difference. Do you really know what you want to be when you grow up? A service year gives you the freedom to spend a year serving in your hometown or anywhere across the country, focusing on issues you are passionate about, such as education, the environment, poverty, healthcare, and more.

Source: National Association of Colleges & Employers