Committing to a gap semester or year can be a difficult choice, and is definitely not a decision to be taken lightly. Taking a gap semester can mean that you will graduate later than your peers, which means having to spend more money on housing. Making the decision without a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish during that semester or goals may not always be the best idea either.
That being said, especially during these uncertain times there are plenty of great reasons to take a gap semester. I took a gap semester during Spring 2021, and looking back now, choosing to take time off from school was the best decision of my life. I personally chose to focus on three major goals: working on professional development, getting academic credit outside of Berkeley, and improving my mental health. Hopefully my experiences can give insights into what a gap semester can look like for you.
Many people choose to spend their gap semesters on internships and research opportunities. One of my fellow consultants, Navya, recently posted on how to find research opportunities, so check out her blog if that’s something you’re interested in! Of course, this is a great way to get more work experience and earn some money. If you choose to go this route, definitely start looking for these opportunities in advance as mid-year job opportunities are definitely more scarce than they are during the summer.
Even if you don’t end up being able to find an internship or research opportunity, there are still plenty of ways to make good use of your time in pursuit of your professional goals. Since I decided to take a gap semester quite late, I didn’t have enough time to find a job during my time off. I decided to focus on finding internships for the summer, and luckily enough, my efforts paid off. I found that the extra time I had to craft great job applications and practice for interviews helped immensely. You can also go on LinkedIn to look for people who work at companies you want to work for, and schedule coffee chats with them to get your name around.
Get Academic Credit Outside of School:
As ironic as it is to literally take classes during a gap semester, taking classes at community college to fulfill requirements is a very good idea that can save you money and time when you go back to school. Pretty much all schools will let you take courses at community colleges to fulfill general education requirements, which is a great option for people who want to make progress towards their degrees without having to take more difficult courses at their universities. I took two classes at the local community college during my gap semester to fulfill requirements, which means that my final semester at Berkeley won’t be as stressful as it could have been if I hadn’t taken these courses.
Out of all of the reasons that I took time off, this was definitely the most important one to me. Everything being online during the pandemic really took a massive toll on my mental well-being, and not having to take classes during my gap semester finally gave me the space and time to take a breather and really focus on myself. I got to spend more time on my student organization (at Berkeley, you can remain in student orgs if you’re taking a gap semester), actually exercise, finally play some video games I had been putting off, and spend quality time with my family. I can now look forward to my last semester of college completely energized and motivated.
I think it’s a common misconception that you have to be “productive” during a gap semester to make it worthwhile. I said at the beginning of the blog that you should have goals for what you want to do with your gap semester. If your goal is to simply take a break and improve your mental health, then that’s a worthy reason. I think that the constant pressure to appear “productive” and “busy” from social media sites nowadays is incredibly damaging. Even if I had decided not to recruit and take community college courses during my gap semester, I still would have felt that it was time well spent because I was able to focus on doing activities I enjoy and recover mentally from what had been a tough year.
Thanks for reading! I know how difficult making the decision to take a gap semester can be, so please do feel free to reach out if you have any questions about my experiences.
David is a Consultant on the Study Hall Consulting team. David is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying Economics and minoring in Data Science. Going into his junior year of college (Fall 2019), David transferred from UC Santa Barbara to UC Berkeley. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.