It’s not easy being a high school student these days. Juggling classes, after school activities like sports, a social life and planning your future is tough. The most demanding part of it all is that you are forced, at a very young age, to spend a lot of time thinking about the future – where should you go to school, what do you want to do, how will you support yourself –
But shouldn’t you take a moment to step back?
Shouldn’t teens explore their interests, develop skills and take the time to live a real world experience before they jump into the vicious cycle of school, then college, then a job, then marriage, then raise kids, and finally, retire?
The answer is yes – and a gap year program is one way to ensure that you dedicate an appropriate amount of to this important task.
Here are three types of gap years any teen could benefit from taking:
photo credit: UBELONG
1) Language Immersion Gap Year
The world is smaller than it used to be. Think about how easy it is to jump on a plane and be in a new country or connect with people from all over the world via Skype in a matter of seconds. It’s incredible! Language and the art of communication are becoming more and more important professionally and, as simple as it sounds, to be a good member of your local community. It’s true – I went to college in San Jose, California where 24% of all households spoke Spanish. That’s almost 250,000 people. It would have been useful to be fluent in Spanish when I arrived as a freshman. Seriously. Not a lot has changed since then. After all, I still live in California.
In San Francisco, 11% of the population speaks Mandarin. What am I trying to say? Becoming fluent in a second or third language isn’t just useful for traveling and seeking adventures. It’s a skill you really should develop as a citizen. But why do that in your hometown when you can travel and see the world?
Check out immersive language programs. These programs give you the opportunity to learn a language, travel, experience a new culture and leave free time during the day to pursue other passions you might have.
No matter what program you pick, make sure it has great relationships with the communities where it hosts its programs. Also, try not to pick an international metropolis as your destination. (Ex: everyone wants to study Spanish in Barcelona, but Barcelona is a big city where English is spoken by many, making it hard for you to focus on Spanish. Also, they don’t even speak Spanish in Barcelona. They speak Catalan). Instead, choose a smaller town with a rich history or go off the beaten path to a cultural village.
Lastly, look for results. Try and find a program that can prove that they help people become proficient speakers. One of the more popular options out there is Middlebury Monterey. Why? Because they can boast results like this one: “91% of beginning students gained a full language level on the American Council of Teaching of Foreign Language’s proficiency scale.” That’s a great statistic to have.
2) Personal and Professional Growth Programs
A second language is an essential skill in our modern world, but learning one isn’t necessarily going to help you figure out what you want to do with your life or turn a pre-existing business idea you might have into a reality. Personal and professional accelerators are about focusing on finding out more about yourself and building the skills you need to succeed on a professional level, while still encouraging you to explore the world and experience new things. They are about grabbing the wheel or taking the reigns of your own development.
There are plenty of options out there to choose from (one of which is our UnCollege Gap Year Program), but here is what you should look for in a program:
Real world professional experience.
If you aren’t going to take a year to travel the world with your trusty backpack, you should spend at least a few months gaining real world experience. We’re not talking about serving up cones at your local ice cream shop or babysitting for the neighbors – we’re talk about internships for companies that can expand your potential as a professional. Don’t settle for any less. What to do: Seek out a program that can help you find one that is both aimed to develop a skill you’re interested in and will be a gold star on your resume.
A supportive, residential or immersive experience.
You can learn a lot about yourself when you live in something – whatever it is – 24/7. Similar to an immersive language experience, look for a program that will force you to think about improving every second of every day.
What to do: Find out which programs value peer-to-peer learning and residential experiences. If you find these qualities in a program, they will most likely offer a great immersive program.
Quality mentoring and networking.
If you’re going to take the time to develop professionally, make sure you have the opportunity to learn from some experienced and remarkable people. What to do: Find a program that can not only coach you, but set you up with people that will help you develop skills and forever bolster your professional network.
Freedom to explore.
Some professional accelerators are entirely too rigid, but you are young and you should have the freedom to explore.
What to do: Find a program that both pushes you to explore your innate curiosities and give you the space to do so. As a teenager, it’s okay to not know what you want to do. On the other hand, it is not okay to sit back and not explore what the world has to offer – and that goes for careers as well.
21st Century skills.
This one is simple – make sure the program you choose teaches skills that will be useful in the modern world. (To see a few examples of 21st century, check out our curriculum page). What to do: Also simple – research programs that teach 21st century skills.
3) Skill Bootcamps
Do you know what you want to do? Is it tech-based? If so, there’s no reason to rush into college. Spend a year developing your skills and your network before you make the leap into university. Skill bootcamps range from marketing to design to coding. Hundreds of these options have popped up all over the world in the past few years. What you should look for is one that has an employment or internship guarantee or promises career support after completing the program.
Most hard skill programs are incredibly niche. That said, companies like General Assembly offer a wide variety of opportunities in a number of US cities.
Did you like this post on gap year options for teens? For more gap year information, visit our resources page.
The most important element of a self-directed education is community, but as a self-directed learner, finding community in the real world can be a challenge.
If your education is a solo experience, you won’t have a community to support you and help you learn things. You won’t have people to connect you to mentors, friends, job opportunities, further resources and other communities that can increase your learning potential. So how, as an independent learner are you supposed to find or build a community as a self-directed learner?
Follow Your Interests
In order to find or build a community of like-minded people, you have to follow your interests and desires to learn certain skills. These interests are your ticket to connecting with others that are striving to learn the same skillset.
Get out of the house, break your routine, and go to events you’re interested in. Find meetups, classes, conferences and networking events that involve topics you are interested in learning, even if this is your first experience reaching out, don’t be apprehensive – It’s all about getting out there and following lines of inquiry. It doesn’t matter what you’re pursuing – coding, entrepreneurship, dance, or cooking – there are events and classes you can find where you can both gain knowledge and meet like-minded people.
From small towns to international cities, there are places that are hubs for community. Find those hubs. Whether it’s a library, community center, hackerspace, religious institution, or college campus, if you have any interest in the place or the community there, try it.
If you go into a pre-existing community and focus on what you can contribute, you will make a great impression and end up learning more than if you entered with the “what’s in it for me?” mindset. If you focus on what you can add to the community, you will connect with people better and they are more likely to have your back when you need something from them.
When it comes to giving back, most newcomers wonder, “what can I possibly have to give?” The answer to that question is: a lot, actually.
Here are a few quick ideas to get you started:
Knowledge or a skill – if you know how to do something like dance, play an instrument, cook, code or write speeches, that is valuable information that you could teach to someone else, or a group. If you have knowledge and resources, you can also offer these.
Time – this usually means volunteering, either for a community in which you are an established member, you’re just getting into, or you can use volunteering as another way to link yourself to a community that already exists.
Connections – if you take the time to get to know people in your different communities, you can connect them to each other. If you connect people to mentors or potential friends who can help each other, that can be invaluable for all involved. Not only will they be connected, but they will always remember who connected them. This will prove to be an invaluable resource.
Support – sometimes people just need support. If you find that people come to you looking for someone to listen to them or to give them advice, know that you send out a signal that you can be supportive. If you help them out in their time of need, they will appreciate it forever and remember your name when someone mentions that they have something you’ve mentioned you need.
Follow up with People
To solidify connections with potential mentors you’ve met in these communities – and show them that you care about them – get their contact info when you meet them. Either ask for their business card, connect on Facebook or Linkedin right there with your phone, or – if you’re old-fashioned – carry around a notepad and pen. Just make sure you record their contact information and follow up later. Follow up soon after you meet them so you don’t forget and so they know you are serious about connecting.
When you send a follow-up email make sure to make it brief and suggest a time or date in the future to meet. Ask them to get coffee sometime, and be as patient and flexible as you can when scheduling.
When you meet up with potential mentors, offer to pay for their coffee. It shows respect for their time, and since you’re the one who enquired about getting coffee, you should be the one buying it. When you get coffee with someone, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that you’re not going into this with the mindset of “what can I get?” but rather, “what can I give?”
The more diverse the various communities you enter into, the more opportunity you have to learn. Don’t limit who you connect with based on an industry, age or focus group to which they belong. Recognize that you can learn from different types of people and that you probably share at least one interest with most people in a given group. If the groups you join are based on interest, they are bound to attract different kinds of people who are still like-minded.
Building Community Through Community
The secret about building a community of your own is to start with the connections you find when you join other communities. As you start to form a web of connections, you will find that you have contacts of people from a bunch of different groups who are helping you learn. You’ve already built your learning community. You don’t need to start a meetup group or institution to start a community, though after you get a lot of contacts, you might do this anyway. This is your learning community, unique to you, but accessible to everyone you know.
Once you start, you will build momentum and your community will grow around you. Building a learning community isn’t easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
This post was written by Ryan Holiday, the marketing genius behind American Apparel and Tucker Max and author of two hit books. Ryan’s first book, Trust, Me, I’m Lying, is an inside look into into the world of media manipulation that Ryan engages in for his clients. But becoming a media master didn’t require college for Ryan— he dropped out. And he hasn’t stopped dropping out. Ryan shares how this habit has impacted his life:
“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow—a very painful slaughter of innocents.” – Henry Sidwick.
You, the ambitious young person, how many of your natural selves have you identified yet? How many of them are suffocating? Are you prepared for the collateral damage that’s going to come along with letting the best version of you out?
Ryan, college student 1 year from graduating with honors
Ryan, the Hollywood executive and wunderkind
Ryan, director of marketing for American Apparel
All dead before 25. May they rest in pieces.
I am a perpetual drop out, quitting, abandoning or changing paths just as many others in my position would be getting comfortable. By Sidwick’s terms, I guess I am a serial killer. This “slaughter” made from room for the exponential growth of Ryan Holiday, published author. But he better not get comfortable either. Because he too may have to be killed one day. And that will be a good thing.
Because the future belongs to those who have the guts to pull the trigger. Who can drop out and fend for themselves. If you’re reading this site you’re probably already contemplating a decision like that. I want to show you why it might be the right call for you and how to do it.
The Big Myth
“It wasn’t quite a choice, it was a realization. I was 28 and I had a job as a market researcher. One day I told my psychiatrist that I really wanted to do was quit my job and just write poetry. And the psychiatrist said, ‘Why not?’ And I said, ‘What would the American Psychoanalytic Association say?’ And he said, ‘There’s no party line.’ ” – Allen Ginsberg
Let’s get the big myth out of the way. There’s not much dropping involved in dropping out of school. When I did it, I remember walking to the registrar’s office—I was so nervous. My parents had disowned me, I needed to move to a new city, the girl whose job I stole hated me. Why was I doing it? I’d just helped sign my first multi-platinum rock act and I wasn’t about to go back to the dorms and tolerate reading in the newspaper about other people doing my work. I was 20 years old.
I’m here to drop out of school, I announced to the registrar (like I was some presidential candidate who thinks he literally has to throw his hat into a ring). In fact, as my advisor informed me, that wasn’t exactly necessary. I could take a leave of absence for up to a year and possibly more, without even jeopardizing my scholarship. I braced for the same condescending, paternalistic lecture I’d gotten from my parents. It didn’t come. These people were happy for me. And if I submitted the right forms, I might even be able to get course credit for the work. How’s that for a party line?
So I took the plunge, and like many big risks, it turned out that dropping out of school was more manageable than I could have ever anticipated.
What I Wish I’d Known
I get a lot of emails from kids who are on the verge of dropping out. They always seem so scared. And I empathize with them. I know I was scared when I quit. Even billionaires, years removed from the decision that has now, in their case, been clearly vindicated, still speak of the hesitation they felt when they left school. Were they doing the right thing? What would happen? Were they throwing everything away?
It’s the scariest and most important decision most young entrepreneurs, writers, artists will ever make. So naturally, they take it very seriously. But doing that—taking it so seriously—almost wrecked me.
I remember pulling into a parking space one day a few months after dropping out, stressed and on the verge of a breakdown. Why am I killing myself over this?, I thought. It’s just life. Suddenly, a wave of calm washed over me. I was doing what young people are supposed to do: take risks. There is no need to stress anything so seriously, let alone school (as someone told me later, he’d gotten sick when he was in college and missed 18 months of school. They’re 50 now and a year and half seems like two seconds). I’m not going to starve. I’m not going to die. There is nothing that can’t be undone. Just relax. Relax. And I did. And it worked.
1) If I’d realized it sooner, I could have avoided many needlessly sleepless nights.
2) I also wish someone had given me some more practical advice:
3) Try to have a few months money on hand. It makes you feel less pressure and gives you more power in negotiating situations.
4) Keep a strong network of friends—college friends especially. The unusualness of your situation is a warping pressure.
5) Keep connected to normal people so you can stay normal.
6) Take notes! I wish I’d written down my observations and lessons for myself the first time I dropped because it wasn’t my last time and I could prepared better for round II and III.
Why I Did It Again (and again)
When I dropped out of school, I was betting on myself. It was a good bet (one that surprised me, honestly) In less than 3 years, I’d worked as a Hollywood executive, researched for and promoted multiple NYT bestsellers, and was the Director of Marketing for one of the most provocative companies on the planet. I had achieved more than I ever could have dreamed of—the scared, overwhelmed me of 19 could have never conceived of having done all that. (Which is why I killed that younger version of me). Yet, I knew it was time to drop out again. The six-figure job had to go. It was time for the next phase in my life. What I had, just like college had been, was holding me back.
That’s exactly what I did. I left and moved 2,000 miles away to write a book. It was wracking and risky and hard for everyone in my life to understand. But I was prepared this time. I knew what to expect. I’d saved my money, I built up my support system and I refused to take it too seriously. Whatever happened, I probably wouldn’t die.
I, and the many people who email me, seem to have a funny habit: We repeatedly leave and give up the things that most people work so hard to achieve. Good schools. Scholarships. Traditional jobs. Money. We don’t believe in sunk costs. If that sounds like you, then you’re probably a perpetual drop out too. Embrace it. I have.
I know that I will do it again and again in my life. Why? Because every time I do, things get better. The trial by fire works. It’s the future. The institutions we have built to prop us up seem mostly to hold creative and forward thinking people back. College is great, but it is slow and routine. Corporations can do great things, but fulfilling individuals is not one of them. Money is important but it can also be an addiction. Accomplishments like a degree or a job are not an end, they are means to an end. I’m so glad I learned that.
On your own path in life, remember the wise words of Napoleon and “Trade space for time.” (Or if you prefer the lyrics of Spoon “You will never back up an inch ever/that’s why you will not survive.”) Space is recoverable. The status of a college degree, the income from a job—recoverable. Time is not. This time you have now is it. You will not get it back. If you are stuck in a dorm room or wedged into a cubicle and what you are doing outside of those places is actually the greatest possible use of you, then it’s time to drop out.
Acknowledge, as Marcus Aurelius writes, the power inside you and learn to worship it sincerely. It may seem counter-intuitive that dropping out—quitting—is part of that, but it is. It’s faith in yourself. It’s about not needing a piece of paper or other people’s validation to know you have what it takes and are worth betting on. This is your life, I hope you take control and get everything you can out of it.
The prospect of college can be daunting. For many of us, the transition between finishing high school and whatever comes next was more than just unknown – it was difficult. It’s never easy to make big life decisions, especially knowing that those choices can change at any minute.
And that’s exactly where the true value of a gap year comes in.
New studies from the American Psychological Association show that taking a gap year can actually motivate you to continue your education and find your interests. Colleges and universities are getting more competitive, thus leading to higher admissions standards and more rejection letters sent out every year. So what can a gap year offer you? As studies show, taking a gap year can give you the opportunity to learn and grow.
These days, the so-called ‘normal’ path is following the three-step path to adulthood: high school leads to college, and college leads to the professional world or, as we like to call it, the “real world.” But for a lot of students, one crucial step is missing – finding and identifying fields that you want to work in, especially those that you enjoy and can make you enough money to survive. That’s hard enough as it is, but taking a gap year to “revitalize your mind” can prove extremely beneficial both in an academic sense and in a personal sense. Whether you fine tune your language skills and experience a new culture, or do research, study, and live the history of your local surroundings, a gap year is a way to understand what you’re truly interested in.
Though gap year programs have been popular in other countries for decades, the United States is finally warming up to the idea of this important detour from the traditional classroom. As David D. Burstein writes, there is an “overwhelming and intensifying pressure put on high school students to get into a great college.” The option of going to college presses fast-forward on our lives, because if you’re not moving forward in the traditional sense you are often seen as idle. And we, in America, consider being idle as absolutely terrifying. But a gap year isn’t a time to be idle, it’s a time to think for yourself, focus and develop both personally and professionally. Burstein is a great example of what a gap year can do. He put college on hold and pushed himself to find his calling. After producing his own film, Burstein created a group to help get the upcoming generation more involved in the current political landscape. Though many people might view it as taking time off, Burstein perfectly notes that in life you are never in fact, taking any time off from education – it’s simply a different path.
The number of students taking a gap year continues to increase every year. Most colleges suggest looking into taking a gap year and defer their admission to the following year, and schools like Harvard even encourage students to do so. More and more students are taking the opportunity to get out and experience opportunity for themselves. The big life decisions will still be there after your program has finished – but the gap year isn’t designed to escape those realities. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Like David Burstein, returning to take on college after a gap year will probably leave you “older, wiser, and a few steps ahead.” At the end of the day, education is there to provide you with an opportunity to succeed. If a gap year can put you in front of your peers, it might not be such an ‘alternative’ to education, after all.
You’re in the waiting room, seconds away from the first round interview for your dream job.
You’re heart is racing.
And you’re prepared…right?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, for you), most people overlook the amount of work it takes to be properly prepared for a job interview. There’s a general, widespread idea that if you know the industry, the company name and a few industry buzzwords, you’re ahead of everyone else.
In reality, the majority of people who receive offers prepare tirelessly. These people are your true competition.
To be able to compete with them, you need a new strategy. Something that goes above and beyond the low-level expectations of doing a quick Google search and showing up. According to Ramit Sethi, 80% of a job candidate’s work is done before even stepping into the interviewing room. Being adequately prepared for a job interview requires that you do your research and practice your interviewing techniques.
Before you go into an interview, you should have an understanding of not only the company itself, but of the obstacles that company is currently facing. If you understand their challenges, then you can prepare solutions – solutions that you, as a potential employee, could deliver if they were to hire you.
This is what Ramit calls the Briefcase Technique. Once you’ve identified the problems the company is facing and how you can offer solutions, you can write a proposal document addressing all of these points. If you take the time and energy to do this, it is likely that even if you don’t interview as well as people with more charisma or confidence, you will still find yourself in the final selection round. Why? Because you addressed their concerns and offered them real solutions. Because you showed that you can think critically, which is more valuable than charisma alone.
Timing is also essential when using the briefcase technique. You can’t launch into it right out of the gate during an interview. You have to wait for the right time to address their concerns and, when it feels appropriate, pull out the proposal. Of course, knowing when to do this might be difficult. Especially if you haven’t practiced being interviewed, which leads us to:
Practice makes perfect
The old saying rings true – the more you practice being interviewed, the better and more prepared you will be when the interview comes along. Don’t just stop at mock-interviews either. When Ramit Sethi was in college, he and a group of friends studied and practiced for hours every week. Not only that, but some of them got interviews at companies they weren’t even interested in as a part of their practice.
We don’t promote taking these kinds of actions – to go out and secure interviews for jobs they have no interest pursuing – but it shows the level of commitment Ramit had to honing his craft. These are the types of individuals that put themselves in the best position to win – those people that do everything necessary to be as close to perfect as possible.
Know what might be asked
At this point, you’ve researched the company and know what problems it is facing. You’ve also come up with a proposal document. But how do you prepare for the questions they might ask? Research common (and crazy) interview questions and make a list. Find out common HR questions. Search on Glassdoor to see how other people’s experience went. Think about the hardest questions you’ve been asked at previous interviews.
Once you’ve done your research, get a friend to practice the actual interview. Give them your list and tell them to pick questions randomly and add things they might think of along the way. This way, you can’t anticipate the questions. Also, give them a set number to pick, so you don’t answer every question every time you practice.
Practice from the interviewer’s POV
Attempting to understanding how the interviewer thinks will give you insight into how you can better prepare your answers and your proposal document. Switch roles with your friend and act as the interviewer. What questions come to mind that you didn’t write down? What goes through your mind when thinking about hiring the person in front of you?
Research and reach out to employees
There’s nothing like a referral to help loosen the intense nature of many interviews. Try and build a relationship with someone before you apply. Reach out to them on LinkedIn and ask a few questions about their professional path and why they enjoy working there. If you take a personal interest in their life and job, there’s a chance they might want to put in a good word when and if you do choose to apply.
With these tips, you’ll interview far better than your peers. You’ll be prepared for crunchtime and ready to take the next step – employment.
Earlier this week, we hosted our first ever UnCollege Ask Me Anything (AMA). We decided to broadcast the event live on the Internet after receiving the same question from young adults all over the world for the past several months via email, Twitter and Facebook – What is UnCollege Gap Year all about?
In preparation for the event, we accepted questions related to our program from people all over the world. Below, we listed out 5 of the amazing questions with their corresponding answers to give you a brief idea of how our program isn’t your typical gap year.
Note: At the bottom of the page, you’ll find the whole AMA recorded with in-depth answers and more Q+A.
Question from John R.
Is your program only for entrepreneurs? If not, what are some examples of fellows who weren’t entrepreneurs?
Gabe (UnCollege Program Specialist): We’ve had people come through and focus on writing. One of our former fellows, Taylor, writes a blog that just got its millionth view. We’ve had people who focus on music, marketing and graphic design. Our general philosophy is that we’re suited to help with any field where a body of work speaks louder than a certificate.
Question from Sarah L.
On the website, you guys talk about coaching instead of teaching. What’s the difference and what are coaching meetings like?
Gabe: The most striking difference is that coaching is done one-on-one. It’s exclusively lead and driven by the interests, curiosities, and passions of the people we’re working with. Rather than being a lecture or “content dump,” coaching is much more about having someone in your corner who is going to push and hold you accountable to the goals that you set. Coaching is highly tailored to the individual and operates on a more meta-level than teaching. It’s really about developing the person. A coaching relationship starts with a personal relationship. That’s what the relationship is based on, really knowing a person in a really meaningful way and helping them grow.
Jon (Program Specialist): It’s our job to take an interest in where you’re going and help you get there. There’s a lot of research behind what we’re doing, but it boils down to us doing our best to give our attention to you.
Dale (Founder): Coaching is certainly something I wish I had had more of both as an unschooler and homeschooler. It was something I missed most when I went to university; just the idea that there is one person whose full-time job it is to think about you and your growth and development.
Question from Anonymous
What kind of person do you accept into the program?
Dale : I think it’s easier to speak to what makes a bad fellow. One of the stand out things is someone who isn’t willing to be proven wrong or take feedback. We really look for people who have evidence of being self-directed, and who are self-motivated and self-aware. I’ll let Jon and Gabe tell you what they like most in a fellow:
Jon: The things that UnCollege Gap Year fellows have in common are that they like to bet on themselves, do things differently and ask important questions. As a coach, I like people who are motivated, someone who questions things, who likes to know why and is willing to work, but isn’t just going to trust. There’s a little bit of cynicism and there’s a whole lot of passion. I love that.
Gabe: I think the big thing for me that makes fellows most enjoyable to work with is a really genuine desire to improve, whether that is through a hard skill or through personal or professional growth. Everyone who is in this program is doing it because they want to push themselves, be ambitious and set big goals for themselves and go far. Working with young people who want the best out of themselves is inspiring and makes my job easier.
Question from Carl B.
How are the workshops during the launch phase different from a class or lecture?
Dale: Our workshops during the launch phase focus on three areas: creation, curiosity, and self-advocacy. All the workshops are designed around good pedagogical principles, which means that they include breaks, they’re personalized, and we’re constantly asking fellows how the material applies to them individually.
Gabe: What I would add is that the workshops in the launch phase are more focused on learning skills and are less focused on theory. The skills that we teach are things we think are really important to being successful, but are never explicitly talked about; things that you’re expected to pick up along the way. Everything you learn in a workshop, you’re going to use that week.
Question from Mateus R.
Don’t know about the situation in the US, but here in Brazil we continue to see companies that should theoretically be “open minded”, “paradigm breakers”, etc, stuck to the idea that a traditional college degree is the only option to the ones who want to apply for a job, based on that I have two questions:
How do you guys handle this?
what is the situation like in the US today? Dale: The reality – at least here in Silicon Valley, and increasingly across the country – is that employers are understanding that in order to hire the best talent, they have to look beyond a college degree. Every resume that they’re getting has someone who has a college degree, and it doesn’t say much beyond that they went to college, showed up and stayed there for four years. Over the course of the last year I’ve been increasingly invited to speak to employers and HR managers who are actively trying to figure out how to evaluate talent in a world where everyone has a college degree.
Have you ever volunteered? If so, chances are you did it to help your local community or lend a hand in some way. You were thinking about others – and that’s a good thing. But there’s more to volunteering than being selfless. Volunteering often helps you in more ways than the people or project you support.
Aside from helping with college applications and resumes, volunteering can also have a life-changing effect on your personal life. Here are some of the most important things volunteering can do for you:
Learn New Skills
One fantastic thing that volunteering can offer you is a new understanding of your own abilities. Whether you’re planning a huge event or making fliers for a small gathering, every task can help you understand how to accomplish something new. As World Volunteering Web explains, “volunteering is the perfect vehicle to discover something you are really good at and develop a new skill.” You can learn big skills like how to plan and budget or how to supervise and manage. Alternatively, you can take time to enhance skills you already have by spending more time actively using them.
Test for Your Future
An added side effect of volunteering is that it gives you an opportunity to try out possible careers, majors, and opportunities. Interested in education? Volunteer at a local school or daycare to gain experience with kids of all ages. Love public policy and local politics? Volunteer during campaigns or work with local officials to improve amenities nearby. Though you may not have any idea what you want to pursue now, volunteering can help you solidify your interests.
Meet New People
Though it might not sound unique to volunteering, meeting new people can have a different face through volunteering than anywhere else. Many diverse people volunteer throughout every community, so having the opportunity to meet and speak with them can give you new “information and ways of looking at the world that can broaden your horizons.” It’s also not a terrible way to network – you’ll learn that some of the most frequent volunteers are former big players in the business world. Volunteering is their way of giving back.
Accomplish Something Important
Sometimes, giving back can give you a great sense of fulfillment. Though your skills and help might improve your community, you can improve your own self-esteem and confidence by accomplishing something you never thought you could.
Remember – volunteering is more than just a way to boost your experience for an application. The things you can learn and give back will last you a long time, and will act as a foundation to build upon for the rest of your life.
No matter what you major in at university, there will always be lessons that can only be learned in the School of Life. In an increasingly competitive job market, companies are looking for graduates who have learned not only from their textbooks, but from the world around them. If you practice these ten crucial life skills while you’re still in school, you’ll be well-prepared for the world outside of college.
1) How To Network With Purpose
Networking can get a bad rap: the idea of connecting with others for the express purpose of using them in the future is, admittedly, a bleak way of seeing your friendships. It’s also the wrong way to see networking! Building a network doesn’t just mean forming relationships that will serve you professionally. Networking is about finding your tribe — people who inspire and challenge you — and forming mutually-beneficial relationships with others.
Teach yourself: Try one-on-one networking with older students, professors, and others in your field. Don’t be afraid to reach out with an unsolicited email; remember, they were once in your position! And remember that serving as a connector — being able to link two friends together — is just as important as forging connections for yourself.
2) How To Manage Your Bank Account
In 2015, could there be a more crucial skill than knowing how to manage your money? Surprisingly, schools have done little to prepare students for their financial futures. By failing to require personal finance classes for students, many universities send their graduates out into the world ill-prepared for the realities of adult life.
Most universities were founded at a time when graduates pursued one stable career for a lifetime. Today, few graduates will stay in the same job for more than a few years at a time! The reality of the workforce has changed, and universities are still a bit slow to catch up. Today, hyphenated careers are on the rise: the writer-slash-entrepreneur, the nurse-slash-consultant, the investor-slash-filmmaker. Creating a job that’s all your own, combining your many passions into one career, and gaining the necessary experiences to forge your unique path: you can’t learn these skills in a lecture hall.
Teach yourself: Take time to determine what puts you in “flow.” Take classes outside of your subject, and think creatively about ways that you can make a living. And be sure to check out the UnCollege blog for more tips about pursuing your passions and building a singular, extraordinary life.
4) When To Trust Your Gut
The ability to trust your instincts is one of the hardest skills to teach and one of the rarest skills to find. You can take eight semesters’ worth of seminars in multiple disciplines without ever having to gauge your gut once. But when it comes to making big, life-changing choices — which job to pursue, which city to move to, which partner to build a life with — a well-honed understanding of your instincts can be invaluable.
Teach yourself: Start by making yourself a person who doesn’t second-guess her choices, even small ones. Have to choose which restaurant to check out for dinner? Go with your first instinct. Don’t know which class to sign up for? Go with the one that “feels right.” And be sure to pay attention to when something feels “off”: trust your gut, and act immediately.
5) How To Avoid Burn-Out
College can be a time when you’re encouraged to work yourself to the bone. Don’t fall into this trap! Your early 20s are an important time for setting boundaries with yourself, learning what your body and mind can handle, and preserving your physical and mental health in the process. Remember: if you burn-out now, you won’t be able to achieve as much later. It can seem paradoxical, but knowing how to step back and get proper rest is just as important as knowing how to push yourself and work hard.
Teach yourself: Start practicing meditation for just ten minutes a day. Take advantage of on-campus counseling options. Set boundaries for when you allow yourself to check your inbox, and try to limit your “screen time” in the mornings and evenings. Know how to ask for a “personal day”: professors and employers will respect you for knowing your boundaries.
6) How To Bounce Back, or The Art of Failing With Grace
School is a place that trains us for success, but if there’s one reality that you should get used to when you’re young, it’s failure. The most successful people are those who know how to fail with grace, and how to bounce back refreshed and ready for the next challenge.
Teach yourself: Read the biographies of people you admire, and make note of the ways in which they coped with set-backs. Always remind yourself of the big picture, and learn not to sweat the small stuff.
7) How To Be A Good Partner
Here’s something you’ll likely never see on a university syllabus: Relationships 101. But choosing the right life partner — and learning how to be a supportive, communicative, and loving partner yourself — are two of the skills that will undoubtedly shape your future happiness. Harvard’s 75-year longitudinal psychological study, which followed 268 male Harvard graduates over the course of their respective lifetimes, found that family relationships and strong, loving connections were the most valuable indicator of overall life satisfaction. Why don’t we teach that in school?
Teach yourself: Remember that time spent on your relationships in your twenties is not time wasted, even if those relationships eventually end. Every friendship and relationship you form can teach you how to strike the right balance in a life partnership. Write down the qualities you are looking for in a partner, and focus on the qualities you have to offer. Make sure to protect time each week to spend on your relationships: don’t let yourself become a one-sided person.
8) How To Communicate and Negotiate Well
Communication isn’t just about being a good partner. It’s also about being a good business person, friend, and future leader. Equally important as knowing how to communicate is knowing how to negotiate for what you want. Mastering the art of negotiation can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the long run. And it’s one of those superpowers that can take years to hone.
Teach yourself: Start with small negotiations. Your landlord tries to raise your rent? Ask him to meet you half-way. Your part-time job still paying you minimum wage? See if they can up your hourly rate by just a few dollars. Learn to recognize your worth, so that when you get out into the real world, you’ll be able to negotiate a healthy starting salary.
9) How To Take Care Of Your Home
This seems like an obvious one, but you might be surprised how many university graduates have no clue how to cook a simple meal, keep an apartment tidy, pay utility bills, and manage a household budget! This is the 21st century, and it’s unlikely that your parents are going to be looking after you when you leave school. Back in the day, schools used to teach female students “home economics”; but these days, college dining halls and maid service can keep students from gaining basic and necessary home-making skills.
Leaving your comfort zone and seeing other parts of the world is a vital part of growing up. Students who take a year out of school to travel — whether out of the state or out of the country — find that their gap year shapes them even more than college itself. Not sure if you can afford a year of luxury travel? Try volunteering or teaching abroad, or check out programs like WWOOFing. And if you can learn a new language, by all means, do it!
Teach yourself: Whether you leave the country or just leave your town, try to plan at least one trip every six months. Use websites like Student Universe to find affordable deals, and communicate with your university about travel grants. Consider going on a gap year. According to an interview with Dale Stephens, the founder of UnCollege Gap Year, students that take a gap year have higher graduation rates and GPAs than students who opt not to take one.
About the author: Jennifer is a writer and editor living in New York. She once broke her ankle while traveling alone in Latvia, and survived. Her great loves are literature, linguine, and shelter dogs.
Resumes don’t carry the weight that they used to. Students and unemployed people spend days writing them, focusing on how to re-word, “[Job applicant] is an excellent communicator, with a passion for problem solving and strategic thinking.” Then employers spend days reading through run-on sentences and jargon-laced sentences that don’t speak to the true potential and personality of the individual they were meant to describe.
The biggest problem with resumes, however, is that they group you, the applicant, with “the masses.” Securing your dream job is hard – when you walk into that office, and ask the secretary where you can put your resume, you enter a competition. Suddenly your unique set of skills is put in a stack of 100 other names and skills. And all of them are “excellent communicators, with a passion for problem solving.” By using a resume to get a job, you’re playing by someone else’s rules in a game that has you at 1–100 odds.
So how can you really catch an employer’s eye? Build a portfolio.
This weekend I was driving home from Tahoe with one of my friends who is a junior at a very good school in California. He gets better-than-average grades. He loves his field of study, mechanical engineering. And he has an impressive amount of real world experience. But he’s still concerned that he won’t get an internship this summer. That’s because he’s playing someone else’s game.
On the car ride home, I described how I got my job at Highfive. Last year, I was riding my bike through Palo Alto, when I saw a poster advertising a part-time writing job. Rather than sending in my resume, I sent a three line email that said something along the lines of, “Hey there. My name is Michael Thomas. I like to write. Check out some of my work here.”
Because all of my work was on a website that I controlled, I didn’t have to describe myself in typical resume form. Instead I was able to let my work speak for itself. If the hiring manager wanted to learn more after the first page, they could navigate to another piece of writing, and another, and another. My thought process and experience wasn’t limited to one page, it was all encompassing.
So I suggested that my friend do the same thing with an engineering twist on it. “Put up a website and show off the stuff you do in your free time.”
We found three projects he could put on a portfolio website. In a Philosophy of Design course, he had designed a washing machine that automatically moved clothes into the dryer. Perfect. He’d also designed, prototyped and manufactured a physical product after High School. Even better. We even turned a job he had last summer as a camp counselor — a negative on your typical engineering resume — into a portfolio page. It turns out he was teaching elementary students how to write code and had to design the courses himself.
All of these experiences were nothing without the stories that made them interesting. But the resume my friend was thinking about writing didn’t have any room for storytelling.
So here’s my advice: sign up for a squarespace account and make two pages: “About me” and “My work.” Spend a couple hours uploading some of your past work and take the time to write out your process of thinking. Then send the CEO of your 5 favorite companies an email describing what you can do for the company and include the link to your portfolio. The funny thing is that you’ll get a better response rate from a CEO with that email than a HR manager sifting through a hundred resumes. After all, the world rewards the creative and the different.
Michael Thomas is a product marketer at Highfive. Previously he was the Founder and CEO of SkyRocket. He writes about startups and a life outside the box on his personal blog.
I was an immature teenager playing a game of tag with a schoolyard full of smiling 9 year-old Nicaraguans.
It was hot out. The air was sticky. I was dressed, unnecessarily, like a young Rick Steves. I was incredibly happy.
Ometepe, Nicaragua with fellow volunteers
During that short three week trip to Ometepe, Nicaragua, I had been bitten by the travel bug for the first time. I fell in love with the mentality that the world was my oyster – new cultures, foods, landscapes and experiences were out there to be explored. It spurred a travel-driven period of my life where I managed to visit over 20 different countries with year-long stints in two. I had the pleasure or exploring the Great Barrier Reef from above and below, strolling along the Great Wall of China, trying my hand as a rancher in Wyoming, teaching English to Spanish youth, wandering the immense lands of Patagonia, playing on a traveling basketball squad in Iberia, attending a spiritual retreat in Africa and filling my Moleskin journals with enough stories to make my mother cry — out of both joy and rage.
I’ve learned a lot along the way – emotionally, personally, professionally and logistically. A lot of those lessons are unique to me and me alone, but being prepared to go abroad is a logistical artform that anyone can pick up. If you are preparing for an experience abroad, first of all, congratulations! And second, read our short traveling abroad checklist that can help prepare you for a few important things before you depart.
Vaccinations, Pills and All That Jazz.
Make sure you purchase some precautionary medication before your departure, especially if this is your first long stint abroad. I hate taking malaria pills. I hate shots. I hate having to carry things I may never use in my backpack, but I have become violently ill in less than ideal places. I’ve hallucinated from dehydration and a stomach virus on the rooftop of a Moroccan hostel because I didn’t have enough money at that point of my trip to afford a room. I’ve had parasites attack my stomach in Central America. And I had that one sickness in Patagonia (I honestly have no idea what it was, but it knocked me off my feet for several days), but in many situations, that medicine in my backpack I was saving for a painfully rainy day really did come in handy. It’s worth the price and the annoyance of carrying it around. So research the countries you will be visiting, find out the most common traveller issues and buy medicine accordingly.
Copy, Copy, Copy.
Have you ever had a checked bag misplaced by an airline? Have you ever had a bag stolen? Have you ever left one at a friends house for a weekend and couldn’t pick it up for a few days? These things happen and it’s vital that you still have access to your important documents. I once left my Spanish residency card at home while traveling to the UK. Guess what? They wouldn’t let me back in on account that I had overstayed my welcome on a tourist visa and didn’t have proof of my temporary residency. It took several trips to the embassy to figure it all out. If it weren’t for a copy my banker had back in Spain, I might still be stuck in Dublin.
With that said, print out essential travel information such as your first hostel location, the name of your in-country contacts, your insurance card, and most importantly your passport. Make 3 copies of your passport and do the following:
1) Give one to a family member at home before you leave.
2) Pack one in your larger backpack or luggage suitcase and hide it. Put it in the lining of the bag or some place that is hard to get to.
3) Keep the third in your day pack or the bag that never leaves your side.
Also, make sure your passport is valid for a time period well beyond your stay. If you need to apply for a passport or a passport renewal, do so months in advance. Achieving these tasks may seem simple, and they are, but they still take a considerable amount of time.
Think about Doubles
Everyone talks about packing light, but asking yourself “what is the bare minimum I need to pack?” isn’t the most efficient question to ask. Instead, ask yourself, “what do I absolutely need that can benefit me in more than one situation?” For example, when traveling in Europe during the summer, pack a shirt that you can use to not only explore city streets, but is also formal enough to wear into museums, churches and a pretty nice restaurant…if the opportunity ever arises. If you are visiting countries with varying climates on a single trip – like going from the heat of Columbia to near freezing temperatures in Patagonia – think about what kind of layers make sense. A huge overcoat isn’t something you’ll want to carry around all trip, but a sweatshirt with an undershirt and a rain slick could make for a much more useful combination.
The beautiful Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain
Practice Being Flexible
Abroad you will be put into awkward positions. You will be uncomfortable. Some smiles will start with cringe faces. These are character building moments, but you need to keep an open mind and learn how to best embrace them. You can attempt to prepare for these experiences before you leave by getting out of your comfort zone in a variety of different ways. I’ll let you get creative here, but here are a few things that I have been subject to that you need to learn how to deal with on the road:
– How to sleep in new, less ideal places (ex: a dirt shack with no AC or formal roofing).
– How to try new foods even if you think you’ll hate them. (Think fish bread, matador testicles, blood sausage, etc).
– Physical embraces. (ex: If you aren’t comfortable giving another man 2 kisses on the cheek, you aren’t ready to visit a lot of different countries).
– Not having electricity 24/7.
Make a “Don’t Get Duped List”
Tourists often get served tourists prices while on the road. That’s okay, it’s going to happen – your pocketbook will get taken advantage once in a while. However, your goal should be to prevent it to the best of your ability. In order to do that, research the following before you depart on your trip:
– The exchange rate.
– The average price of a taxi from the airport.
– The average price of a hostel or hotel accommodation.
– Public transportation costs.
– Cell phone or any other communication costs.
– Find out the translation for “I’m sorry, but that’s too expensive,” and “I’ve only got ___ dollars,” and “thanks so much, but I’m on a budget.”
If you are going to be traveling for more than a month or so, you will most likely look into an international plan or grabbing a local cell phone. It’s much cheaper to do the latter and then sign up for a Skype number for that particular country. That way, your family or friends can call you in case of any emergency and have it relayed to your local cellphone for a few cents. Even if it’s not an emergency, it’s a cheap alternative to an international cellphone. Trust me. If you find yourself is a terrible bind and need to contact someone abroad, all you’ll need is a few cheap local credits to get through. You can usually buy credits at local mini marts and grocery stores.
A lot of people ask me if you need Internet on your phone. Sure, it helps, but for me it takes away the fun of having to interact with locals to find your way and communicate. If you want it for security reasons, having an unlocked phone is the way to go. That way, all you need to do is buy a new SIM abroad and purchase a prepaid credit plan.
I hope this short list helps some of you better prepare for an incredible experience abroad. Remember, it’s a beautiful world out there with beautiful people and beautiful sites. Go out and enjoy it – just do what you can to stay safe while you do it.