Stepping Off the College-to-Career Treadmill for a Gap Year

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Today’s the day. Acceptance letters are in, deposits are paid, and audible sighs of relief can be heard from parents across the country. Woohoo!

Another year of graduating seniors are headed to college. If you’re a parent of one of these aforementioned teens the relief is real. I’ve known the joy and accompanying melancholy of it myself.

I’ve also known the other side of this coin, with a son who wasn’t ready to keep pace on the college-to-career treadmill. He, like many others, needed a gap year.

Gap years can prove to be life-changing opportunities of growth and opportunity, whether considered because of placement on a college wait list or just time off needed before launching a career. Their real value is the ability to press pause.

So what actually is a gap year? For starters, it’s not a frivolous vacation. It is strategic time for your teen to fine-tune his or her personal path. In his recent New York Times article, Kyle DeNuccio referred to his year off as “an opportunity to discover a sense of purpose outside of school.” A year on your own terms can do that for you. Whether traveling, volunteering, interning, learning a new language, or testing a possible career direction, gap years provide strategic time for teens to step out of their comfort zone to explore and uncover new things. The outcome of newfound skills, clarity, independence, and an appreciation for how others live can be transformational.

My son, teaching English in Vietnam during his gap year

Art and design majors have the benefit of being creative problem solvers by their very nature. A year off the treadmill will only enhance that skill set. The time away also proves that they’re not risk-adverse. Coincidentally, both those attributes are highly coveted by employers.

Traditionally gap years occur between sophomore and junior years at college – when I needed mine. But, they can be taken anytime. My son took his after college; he was fortunate to have a job waiting for him when he returned. We each paid our own way, benefitted immensely from the experience, and were clearly focused when we stepped back on the track.

Want to learn more? Kyle’s article is a great place to start understanding the realities of stepping off for a year. Only you and your teen will know if it’s the right thing to do.

Why Art History?

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

Art and design are all about doing. Creating, building, drawing, painting, sculpting; you get the picture. Sometimes we forget that an important aspect of creating something new relies on understanding something old; something that others have created before us. It could have been designed last month or constructed two centuries ago. The age doesn’t matter; it all adds value.

Just like today’s artists, those of the past depicted the world as they knew it, they brought new ideas to the public’s attention, and they broke new ground. Through their dedication, they’ve enriched today’s broader understanding of varied perspectives and viewpoints. And perhaps unconsciously, they are guiding and influencing today’s and tomorrow’s artists.

If your passion is to understand the indigenous peoples of Pre-Columbia or the natural beauty of the world as depicted during the Renaissance, you’re not alone. There are a number of excellent art and design history programs to help you explore and comprehend a specific time or place, or to provide you with a broad understanding of artistic influences across a wide time period.

Chinese statues, Chin Dynasty

Chinese statues, Chin Dynasty

The study of Art History typically incorporates theory and criticism, as well as archeology, conservation, and museum studies. Period-relevant cultural and social contexts are examined, and many programs integrate studio work for an additional hands-on perspective. Apprenticeships and internships in galleries, museums, or educational settings are encouraged for a comprehensive understanding of potential career opportunities. Study abroad experiences add even more depth.

According to SnaapShot 2012, an annual online survey by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, the top career paths for art history majors include education and training, library services, curatorial and museum/gallery work. Careers in publishing, grant writing, and auction houses are also common.

Where do you begin your search? Try some of these colleges:

Most institutions offer a BA, but some provide the opportunity for a BFA as well. Minors are common for those wanting to add value their studio focus. If for no other reason, I’d suggest taking art history courses just to give you a different perspective. They’ll enhance your life, and work. Among those I’ve taken, the one on indigenous peoples of Indonesia and Africa fascinated me, and forever changed my life… in a good way.

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