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Recommendations for making the most of gap year(s) before grad school?

I plan on obtaining my master's in counseling within the next few years, but I'd like to take a gap between undergrad and grad. What advice do you have for making the most of these gap years? I'd love to use this time to gain relevant experience, but it seems like entry-level positions that are related to counseling and only require a bachelor's degree are hard to come by. Thanks in advance for your input!
#graduate-school #counseling #gap-year


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John’s Answer

Alex if you are dead-set on your major and confident about your choice, finding a job is not the only option you have. Alternatively, you can look for a mentor to teach you the tricks of the trade. Often in life, the most valuable advice comes from someone with experience, not from textbooks – if you wish to become a counselor — I suggest finding a counselor can be suitable for you. After dedicating one year to studying with a mentor, you will grasp the basics of the industry. It means you will enter grad school with much greater knowledge, and it will allow you to find opportunities other students may have difficulties with. A mentor can teach you skills, secrets, pass on their experience, and be generally helpful to your career. You will stand out among other students who don’t have those skills or knowledge.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PLAN
Some students take a gap year and create amazing experiences for themselves. Others take their gap year and find themselves spending extra time on their couches at home. Taking a gap year isn’t intended to be a spontaneous decision. It requires clear planning, plenty of research, and communication with your parents, your preferred college or university, and others to ensure it is a positive experience. If you find it a struggle to plan a gap year, it may be better to stay in school.

Not everyone is going to be taking a gap year. If you decide to return to college after taking some time off, you’ll be at least 1 semester behind everyone else. You could even be a full year behind your classmates who decided to keep going with their education. That may put you at a disadvantage in some vocational pursuits. It will also create a source of division with your friends that didn’t take a gap year because your experiences will be different. Life can be very different when returning to school after taking some time off, which is why some students don’t come back. There is a lot of value in having good studying habits. You’ll be breaking those habits when you take a gap year, which means you’ll need to re-establish them if/when you decide to come back to school. Although the stress reduction and personal enjoyment that comes with a gap year can recharge your batteries and be a refreshing back, returning to the learning routine can be very difficult. It may feel impossible to regain the momentum you had as a student in high school.

GAP YEARS CAN BE EXPENSIVE
If a gap year involves travel and exploration, then the cost of the experience may be just as high, if not higher, than the cost of the tuition they would have paid as a student. Some students may accumulate enough debt during their gap year that it could make college more difficult to afford. Some students who decide to take a gap year may find it difficult to obtain the financial aid they need for college or university classes. Not every institution gives students the option to defer their enrollment for a year. Even if you can, you may find that the financial aid package is different. At the very least, U.S. students would be required to submit another FAFSA, which means not every scholarship, loan, or grant may be available. Let’s face it. College is expensive these days. Even if you’re attending an in-state public institution, the cost of tuition could be around $8,000 per semester. That’s a lot of debt to handle when you eventually earn a degree and get into a career that you’re passionate about. If you can take a job during your gap year and save what you earn, even if it is only part-time work, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of student debt being carried in the future.

Maybe you’ll discover who you are during a gap year. Maybe you will not. If you create a plan before starting it, you will give yourself the best chance to have a successful, refreshing experience.

Good Luck Alex

Thank You Kevin. “Help one another. There’s no time like the present, and no present like the time.” – James Durst John Frick

Thanks for the thoughtful response, John! Developing a clear plan and being proactive about my finances are both great tips that I'll be sure to put into action. Alex S.

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Michael’s Answer

One of the biggest mistakes people make in any endeavor is usually the ‘gap time’! Whenever there is a gap in anything in life, that gap is filled with things other than the planned activity! Life continues to go on, therefore things continue to evolve! One thing I did when I was studying to be a counselor was to get involved in internship at a substance abuse program! I studied and worked until the end of my internship! When it was over, I approached the director of the program and told him I appreciated the opportunity to learn in his environment! I told him I needed a job the pays and he offered me a lucrative salary based on the six months I worked for free, from open to close five days a week! Six years of continual work as a counselor, I went back to school to get my bachelors and masters degrees and never let a day go by without staying the course (no gap time)! I went from counselor to senior counselor to Addictions Therapist in six years, retiring after twenty years in the field. I’ve been retired for almost two years now! The reason all this took so long is (gap time). It took me twenty years to go back to college to finish what I started twenty years earlier. Youth time is the time for sacrifice so that your later years will be spent enjoying the sacrifice made when you were younger. I did it backwards but I would not trade one day of the experience because it made me the proud person I became and now am!

Hi Michael, thanks for sharing your perspective! Alex S.

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Hugo’s Answer

I took a gap when I was 20 from college and did not go well. End up in the Army and finish my BA when retired in my 45s. So I dont advice to anyone taking a gap. Just go thru with your mission in life, it will be plenty of time for gaps when you retired from work.

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Anthony’s Answer

Hello Alex, I am happy to help answer your question.

During this time, my recommendation would be to get involved as either a volunteer or an intern. These are good opportunities that fit your limited time frame. These are also good options because Grad Schools love to see that you have worked as a volunteer or an intern. For them, these positions show that you are passionate about the betterment of yourself and your career, and are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. Look for opportunities that fit the career direction you are looking to pursue so that you can gain applicable experience. Finally, during your Grad School application process, talk about these experiences in your Goal Statements, highlighting to the school what your learned while completing these opportunities.

Hi Anthony, thanks for the insight! Using my gap year to gain experience as a volunteer or intern is a great suggestion. Especially as someone who is still in the exploratory phase of their career path, I think it makes sense to find real-world experience before diving into an intensive graduate program. Thanks again! Alex S.

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Emily’s Answer

Hi Alex,

I have a Master's degree in a Counseling field and also took about a 6-month gap period between earning my Bachelor's
degree and starting my Master's program. While I do not have enough information about what type of Master's
level Counseling program you are considering, I think you are smart to be proactive in using some of the gap time to gain
some relevant work experience. This will go a long way when you are developing your resume, and it may set you
apart from others when you eventually compete for more complex jobs.

You should also consider that practice in the Counseling field, even after completion of your degree, will still
require you to pass licensure and/or certification in whatever specialty you choose, whether that is Counselor Ed,
Marriage and Family Therapy, Vocational Rehabilitation, Licensed Mental Health Counseling (LMHC),
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or maybe it is even a Social Work program. So, face to face hours, not just
classroom hours are crucial in Counseling. You can't be effective without practice.

I see you are in California, so licensing requirements may be more stringent in your state, but Bachelors level opportunities
may exist within organizations dealing with children and families (there are current openings on indeed.com with Seneca
Family of Agencies and Catholic Charities of San Francisco) or with residential treatment facilities (there is a current opening
on indeed.com with the Progress Foundation as a Temporary Counselor for the Avenues Program). While these may not
be traditional counseling, per se, it may give you some exposure to the field and added insight as you eventually progress
through the Master's program and further choose where you would like to specialize or spend more time.

Hi Emily, I appreciate the time you took to craft such a thorough response! I hadn't thought of using this period to accumulate FTF counseling hours – of course, it seems like a great idea to me now. Aiming for entry-level positions within family-centered organizations is also a useful tip. Thank you again for the insight! Alex S.

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Jessica’s Answer

Taking a gap year can be a great way to re-gain focus for grad school. This might be the last time before retirement where you will have time off to go on adventures and explore various hobbies without having to worry about going back to work.
If jobs in your field are hard to come buy try to do any job shadowing or even internships to get your name out there and gain as much experience as possible.
After undergrad i took some time off and took some language classes and learned various skills that I still look back at to this day.

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PAUL’s Answer

Hi Alex
I would recommend that you acknowledge that you are taking a year off and embrace and enjoy what ever makes you happy or that you are curious about exploring with your life. Leave the "worrying" about next year for next year if that makes sense. Try to find balance and purpose with your gap year. If you feel that you need to take a break and need to just relax and have fun , than relax and have fun. If you feel like you need to explore possibilities then try volunteering within your career field or even outside of your field to give yourself some perspective.

Hope this helps

Hi Paul! Agreed, balance and purpose are important themes to keep in mind. Based on this, I'm starting to think of my gap year as an opportunity to "recalibrate" before diving into grad school. Thanks for the feedback! Alex S.

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PAUL’s Answer

Hi Alex
I would recommend that you acknowledge that you are taking a year off and embrace and enjoy what ever makes you happy or that you are curious about exploring with your life. Leave the "worrying" about next year for next year if that makes sense. Try to find balance and purpose with your gap year. If you feel that you need to take a break and need to just relax and have fun , than relax and have fun. If you feel like you need to explore possibilities then try volunteering within your career field or even outside of your field to give yourself some perspective.

Hope this helps

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