School is over; university is on the horizon. Many high school students, however, aren’t quite ready to take that next step to university or college and are looking to take a “gap year”. A beach in Thailand beckons. But your parents say “No way – we’re not funding that!”. The gap year can be such an incredible experience though, before real life kicks in with all its responsibilities – so what are your options?
From a career advisor’s (and perhaps a parent’s) perspective, the additional goal of a gap year should be to enhance your college admissions and your eventual career prospects – fantastic if you can do something which will wow a college admissions person or employer. So here are some ideas for “worthy” ways to spend your gap year:
Volunteering: Gap years are traditionally associated with volunteering for a worthy cause. Do a Google search of “Gap Year Internships” and you’ll get around 15 million results. Nearly all these results are listings of non-profit organizations looking for young people to provide their free labor in exchange for some lifetime memories, new friends, and some new skills. Do these volunteering experiences boost your chances of college admissions? In our opinion, not really. Admissions staff read about them so often they generally see them as not that special.
You pay to work somewhere: Several companies offer internships where you pay them to organize work experience. Often the work is abroad at a company with which they have a connection. Sometimes the internships are in the US. To be honest, I have missed feelings about these. On the one hand, they cater to the wealthy, so are elitist. On the other hand, they can give the high school student a real taste of what it’s like to work in the real world. Since companies are paid to host interns, they generally construct intern programs that are worthwhile and give you useful new skills. Colleges and employers don’t necessarily know that you paid to get this work experience, and they are typically a lot more impressed by real work experience than they are by volunteer experiences.
Military: The Military finds it hard to recruit and as a result has some innovative programs for high schoolers. Colleges and employers are highly impressed by any kind of military experience. They know you have learned to show up on time, do what you are told, do your work effectively because you have been subjected to high standards. Oh, and you are also a team player. In the US, an example of good military experience is the “High School Apprentice Program” https://www.usaeop.com/program/hsap/ where high school Juniors and Seniors get paid to do proper STEM research for an internship working alongside military personnel.
Commission-jobs: I like this category because it is the most difficult! You work for a company selling their products door-to-door, or possibly in telesales. My favorite program is run by Southerwestern http://www.southwesternadvantage.com/BuildYourBusiness.aspx which hires a few hundred students every summer (you have to be at least 17 years old) in the US and the UK. Other companies hire groups of students to live and work together to commission-sell house services like pest control, and double-glazed windows. Most high school students haven’t ever sold anything. The culture shock of going from school life where you are told what to do to a sales environment where you proactively solicit adults to buy something is truly transformative. And really quite difficult – so probably not for everyone.
Paid internships: These are often the best bet for the motivated student who also wants to get paid. One great internship option is the Accenture Horizons program – https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/careers/horizons. Accenture is the world’s preeminent tech consulting firm with 460,000 employees globally, and every year it hires school leavers to work as Technology Consulting Analysts. It’s tough to get hired (online numerical and verbal reasoning tests; video interviews; full-day assessment centre at Accenture’s offices in London) but when you get the job, you’re on a winner. Treated as a fully-fledged analyst, interns are placed on client projects (sometimes overseas) and are treated like professionals – doing proper technology consulting work. And the pay is pretty decent too!
Vocational Internships: You know you want to be a software engineer, an architect, accountant, nurse, or wealth manager. You can easily secure a paid gap year internship in any of these areas by networking with the right people. Most high schoolers aren’t naturally good at networking so will usually need the helping hand of a parent or mentor. In short: (1) Choose your career area; (2) Identify 20 companies you would consider working for; (3) Identify by your family and friend network, or by LinkedIn, or by the company website, three senior professionals at each company; (4) Email each person!; (5) Follow up with a phone call. Anyone from your local community who knows your high school is going to take your call. They may not have an internship at their organization, but nearly all of them will offer useful advice on who you can try next to get what you want. Almost everyone wants to help high schoolers get ahead. They will help teenagers in a way they wouldn’t even consider with adults. Fortune favors the Bold!