What to do with a Gap Year
For those planning to attend law school, you may hear about the importance of a gap year. A gap year, generally speaking, is a year+ long break between undergrad and law school. I like to encourage them even though I went straight through. What is the goal of a gap year? It can be anything you want it to be, really. You can spend the time getting your money right so you can afford to apply for law school; you can spend the time getting more information about the legal profession/meeting lawyers so you can be sure the law is for you; and/or you can spend the time strengthening your application.
But what do you actually do? It all depends on your goal! But a gap year, if done correctly, can be what you need to be in the right state of mind to apply to law school.
One of the ways people spend their gap year is by participating in a one or two year program. Programs like Teach for American, AmeriCorps or Fulbrights are all often precursors to law school. They are prestigious opportunities that can create a strong foundation for your law school application, but the pay isn’t always livable and the programs aren’t always accessible. If this is an option for you, you should consider going for it, but also know that if you can’t participate in these programs because of financing or other barriers, don’t feel discouraged as if your application won’t be as stellar as others. This is just one option for a gap year.
Another option is to find full-time employment (duh, right?). If you can find work in the legal field like paralegal or legal assistant that will help you gain exposure to the legal practice and meet attorneys. This is great for both those that are still thinking about law school and for other First Gen students who don’t have much of a professional legal network yet. This doesn’t have to be limited to paralegal work though—if you can find opportunities in legal adjacent work, like policy or organizing, that can also give you exposure and a distinct perspective into the legal field. Or maybe you got a degree in something that you can find work in (sociology majors like me wouldn’t have it so easy). Maybe you have a degree in journalism, or finances, or teaching—put your degree to use. It’s ok if your gap year is just full-time work in the area that you studied. Even if you don’t meet lawyers, you are gaining professional experience, earning a salary, and giving yourself space to really plan your application.
Another option is not super accessible to a lot of people is travel. Ok, so first, I chuckled when I typed that because the idea of traveling for a set amount of time without working was just not going to happen in my lifetime when I was prepping for law school. And maybe for most First Gen/low-income students this won’t be a possibility. But maybe there’s someone out there that has the chance—I don’t want to discourage that. We deserve to do whimsical things too! And if you could do it but feel guilty because you wouldn’t be working (and don’t need to) then let this be a sign to release that guilt. Take advantage of this really special time in your life and go experience something amazing!
Regardless of how you spend your gap year, you can’t lose focus. If law school is for you, then make sure you keep a timeline of things you must do as you prepare for your application. And try to make sure the time you’re spending out of school is serving you in a positive way. Not to be dramatic, but this time can be really formative in your next chapter so you owe it to yourself to spend your time wisely, which includes tending to your mental health and truly enjoying your free time away from school!