Gap Year Experience: Why more teens are delaying college

Gap Year Experience: Why more teens are delaying college

Taking a year off is catching on with students looking for adventure and to avoid burnout.

This summer, Monika Lutz’s life took an unusual turn. Instead of heading off to college, the high school graduate packed her bags for a Bengali jungle. Lutz, like a growing number of other young Americans, is taking a year off. Gap years are quite common in Britain and Australia, but they are just beginning to catch on in the U.S. Lutz, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., has put together a 14-month schedule that includes helping deliver solar power to impoverished communities in India and interning for a fashion designer in Shanghai – experiences that are worlds away from the stuffy lecture halls and beer-stained frat houses that await many of her peers. “I could not be happier,” she says.

No one tracks the number of U.S. students who decide to take gap years, but many high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers say the option is becoming more popular. Harvard, which has long encouraged its incoming first-years to defer matriculation, has seen a 33% jump in the past decade in the number of students taking gap years. MIT’s deferments have doubled in the past year. And Princeton formalized the trend in 2009 by funding gap-year adventures for 20 incoming first-years annually. The school’s goal is to extend this offer to about 100 students per class.

Meanwhile, a cottage industry of gap-year programs and consultants has sprouted in the U.S. Tom Griffiths, founder of GapYear.com a site that serves as a clearinghouse for gap-year programs, says that five years ago, perhaps 1% of his Web traffic originated in the U.S. Now, that figure is 10%. The number of Americans taking gap years through Projects Abroad, a U.K. company that coordinates volunteer programs around the world, has nearly quadrupled since 2005. The organization just launched Global Gap, its first effort marketed specifically to Americans; the 27-week curriculum features service projects in South Africa, Peru, India and Thailand.

Like a year of college, these adventures can be expensive. The price tag for Global Gap is $30,000. Thinking Beyond Borders, a highly respected, eight-month program that parachutes students into third-world communities, costs $39,000. Yes, it’s certainly possible for students to pursue meaningful volunteer work on a smaller budget. But unless kids stay at home and get a paying job nearby, families will likely incur significant expense. The increase in interest suggests that at least some families are willing. “There are now more structured opportunities for students to take gap years,” says David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “That doesn’t happen unless there’s a market to sustain it.”

Why are students attracted to the gap-year concept? According to new survey data from Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, education-policy experts and co-authors of The Gap-Year Advantage, the most common reason cited for deferring college is to avoid burnout. “I felt like I was focused on college as a means to an end,” says Kelsi Morgan, an incoming Middlebury College freshman who spent last year feeding llamas at a North Dakota monastery, interning for a judge in Tulsa, Okla., and teaching English at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The hope is that after a year out of the classroom, students will enter college more energized, focused and mature. That can be an advantage for colleges too. Robert Clagett, dean of admissions at Middlebury, did some number-crunching a few years ago and found that a single gap semester was the strongest predictor of academic success at his school.

Most experts recommend securing a spot in college before taking a gap year and warn against using the time off to pad your rÉsumÉ. “Most admissions folks can see right through that,” says Jim Jump, the academic dean of St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va. But for students like Lutz, who, after getting rejected from five Ivies, decided to take time off, a gap year can help reprioritize and focus interests. Lutz now plans to apply mostly to non-Ivies that have strong marketing programs. “This experience has really opened my eyes to the opportunities the world has to offer,” she says.

But at least one education expert doesn’t want schools spreading the gap-year message as if it were gospel. In a study that followed 11,000 members of the high school class of 1992 for eight years after graduation, Stefanie DeLuca, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, found that, all things being equal, those who delayed college by a year were 64% less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than those who enrolled immediately after high school. DeLuca did not pinpoint whether these students voluntarily started college late, but at the very least, her work indicates that taking a gap year doesn’t guarantee success. “I’m not going to say that time off does not have benefits,” says DeLuca. “But I think we should be tempered in our enthusiasm.”

No one’s gap-year enthusiasm was more tempered than Olivia Ragni’s. In the spring of 2009, the high schooler from Arkadelphia, Ark., inadvertently missed the deadline to secure her spot at Rice University that fall and was told she would have to wait a year to enroll. “I was really down,” says Ragni, who still cries when recalling the embarrassment of informing her classmates of the unintended deferment. But through two experiential-learning organizations, she spent the year volunteering in a hospital in India, taking intensive Spanish while hiking volcanoes in Guatemala and working at an elephant camp in Thailand. “I gained confidence and independence,” says Ragni, who has just arrived in Houston to start her first term at Rice. “It was the best experience of my life.” The tears have dried up. Consider it a lucky break.

Five mistakes online job hunters make

Five mistakes online job hunters make

In a tight labor market, building and maintaining an online presence is essential for networking and job search.

Done right, it can be an important tool for the present and the future of networking and value to potential employers try to get an idea of who you are, your talents and experience.

Done wrong, it can easily get out of the race for most positions. Here are five mistakes job seekers make online:

1. Forgetting manners

If you use Twitter or you write a blog, you should assume that hiring managers and recruiters to read your updates and messages. In December 2009 a study by Microsoft Corp. revealed that 79% of hiring managers and recruiters review the information online about candidates before making a hiring decision. Of those, 70 said they% rejected candidates based on information they find online. Key reasons listed? Concerns about lifestyle, inappropriate comments, and inappropriate photos and video.

“Everything is indexed and able to search,” says Miriam Salpeter, a job search, Atlanta-based coach and social media. “Even Facebook, which many people consider a more private network, can easily become a trap for job seekers who post things they would not want a prospective boss to see.”

Do not be lulled into thinking your privacy settings are foolproof. “All it takes is one person sharing the information that you might not want to share, send a message, or breach of trust for the illusion of privacy in a closed network of be eliminated, “says Salpeter, who recommends not post anything illegal (even if it’s a joke), criticism of a boss, colleague or client, information about an investigator or anything sexual or discriminatory. “Suppose that your future boss is reading everything that you share online,” she said.

2. Overkill

Inerting social media networks with half-profiles does nothing except to annoy the people you want to correct that impression: potential employees try to find more information about you.

An online profile is very much more effective than many others do not and incomplete, “said Sree Sreenivasan, dean of students at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He decided early to limit to three social networking sites: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. “It is simply not enough time” he said. “Pick two or three, then cultivate a presence there.”

Many people make the mistake of joining LinkedIn and other social media sites and then just let their public profiles sit unfinished, says Krista Canfield, a spokesman LinkedIn. “Just signing up for an account is not enough,” she said. “At a minimum, make sure you are connected to at least 35 people and make sure your profile is 100 percent. Members with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive offers of LinkedIn. ”

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are the three most popular social networking sites for human resources managers to use for recruitment, according to a poll released last month by JobVite, a recruitment software company.

3. Not getting the word out

When the accounting firm Dixon Hughes had recently opened a business development manager, Emily Bennington, company director of marketing and development, posted a link to the occasion on his Facebook page. “I immediately received emails deprived of many people in my network, none of them I knew were on the market for a new job, she said. “I understand there are privacy issues when it comes to job search, but if nobody knows you’re looking for is also a problem.”

Change what may be as simple as updating your status on LinkedIn and other social networking site for people to know that you are open to new positions. If you are currently employed and do not want your boss to find out that you need, you will need to be more subtle. One way is to give potential employers a sense of how you might fit in, “said Dan Schawbel, author of” Me 2.0 “and founder of the millennium mark. “I would recommend a placement, or the personal brand statement which describes who you are, what you do, and what audience you serve, so people an idea of how you can benefit their business.”

4. Quantity over quality

Choose wisely connections, only add those you know or you do business. Whether on LinkedIn, Facebook or other networking site, “it’s much more a game of quality and quantity of a game,” says Canfield. A recruiter may choose to contact one of your connections ask your subject, make sure that person is someone you know and trust.

And there’s really no excuse for sending an automatic, general introduction, Ms. Canfield said. “Take five to 10 seconds to write a couple lines on how you know the other person and why’d you want to connect them can mean the difference between accept or decline your request to connect she said. “It does not hurt to mention that you are more than willing to help them or present them to other people in your network.”

5. Exclusively online

Beginning last year, Washington Tacoma utilities posted a meter reader position of water on his website. The answer? More than 1,600 people have applied for a position $ 17.76 per hour.

With the greatest number of persons currently unemployed (or underemployed), many employers are flooded with large number of applications for the positions they post. To limit the pool of candidates, some have stopped job postings on their Web sites and job boards, “said Tim Schoonover, president of the career consulting firm OI Partners.

Jobless claims rise to highest level in 9 months

Jobless claims rise to highest level in 9 months

First-time jobless claims hit 500K, highest level since November as labor market weakens.

Employers appear to be laying off workers again as the economic recovery weakens. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November.

It was the third straight week that first-time jobless claims rose. The upward trend suggests the private sector may report a net loss of jobs in August for the first time this year.

Initial claims rose by 12,000 last week to 500,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Construction firms are letting go of more workers as the housing sector slumps and federal stimulus spending on public works projects winds down. State and local governments are also cutting jobs to close large budget gaps.

The layoffs add to growing fears that the economic recovery is slowing and the country could slip back into a recession. “The rise in initial jobless claims over the past three weeks makes it difficult to maintain confidence in the recovery and suggests the labor market is backtracking,” Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, wrote in a note to clients.

Stocks tumbled on the fear of more layoffs and weak job growth. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 185 points in midday trading. Broader indexes also declined.

Jobless claims declined steadily last year from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009 as the economy recovered from the worst downturn since the 1930s. They hit a low of 427,000 in July before rising steadily over the past six weeks.

In a healthy economy, jobless claims usually drop below 400,000. “This is obviously a disappointing number that shows ongoing weakness in the job market,” said Robert Dye, senior economist at the PNC Financial Services Group.

Dye said claims showed a similar pattern in the last two recoveries, but eventually began to fall again. The current elevated level of claims is a sign employers are reluctant to hire until the rebound is well under way. That’s what happened in the recoveries following the 1991 and 2001 recessions, which were dubbed “jobless recoveries.”

California reported the largest increase in new claims two weeks ago, the latest data available. The state saw a jump of 4,393 in claims, due to more layoffs in services. Georgia has seen claims rise sharply for two straight weeks because of layoffs in construction and manufacturing.

The nationwide increase suggests the economy is creating even fewer jobs than in the first half of this year, when private employers added an average of about 100,000 jobs per month. That’s barely enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising. The jobless rate has been stuck at 9.5 percent for two months.

Private employers added only 71,000 jobs in July. But that increase was offset by the loss of 202,000 government jobs, including 143,000 temporary census positions.

July marked the third straight month that the private sector hired cautiously. Economists are concerned that the unemployment rate will start rising again because overall economic growth has weakened significantly since the start of the year.

After growing at a 3.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter, the economy’s growth slowed to 2.4 percent in the April-to-June period. Some economists forecast it will drop to as low as 1.5 percent in the second half of this year.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose by 8,000 to 482,500, the highest since December. The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell by 13,000 to 4.5 million, the department said. The continuing claims data lags initial claims by one week.

But that doesn’t include millions of people receiving extended unemployment insurance, paid for by the federal government. About 5.6 million unemployed workers were on the extended unemployment benefit rolls, as of the week ending July 31, the latest data available. That’s an increase of about 300,000 from the previous week.

During the recession, Congress added up to 73 extra weeks of benefits on top of the 26 weeks customarily provided by the states. The number of people on the extended rolls has increased sharply in recent weeks after Congress renewed the extended program last month. It had expired in June.

Is it the night time to quit your job?

Is it the night time to quit your job?

Far too many people quit their jobs in frustration, only to find similar (or worse) conditions in their next positions. If you find yourself tempted to quit your job, you’ll make a far better decision for yourself if you analyze your situation calmly and rationally.

1. Never quit in a moment of emotion. Most people have moments—plenty of them—where they want to quit their jobs. Most of the time, the feeling passes. Give yourself a couple of weeks—if the feeling doesn’t lift, then it’s something you can take seriously. But you don’t want to make a major decision in the heat of emotion that you can’t reverse later. And remember, it’s easy to reverse a decision not to quit. But it’s close to impossible to reverse a resignation once you’ve given it.

2. Think carefully about the advantages of your job that you may not find somewhere else. Perhaps your employer gives you an enormous amount of flex time that you don’t think you’d easily find elsewhere. Maybe you have a fantastically short commute that you really value. Maybe you get to do work that you love in a way that’s hard to find. You need to figure out what’s important to you and weigh that against what’s frustrating you. Maybe quitting would be the right decision—but make sure that you’ve weighed all the pros and cons before you do.

3. If possible, talk to your boss about your frustrations. You may find that things can change.

4. Be realistic about what will happen after you quit. If you don’t have another job lined up, how long will your savings last you? In this market, some people are going unemployed for a year or more, so if you resign without another job offer, you need to have a long-term plan.

5. Never quit just to “show them.” Often a desire to quit in frustration really stems from feeling powerless. The employer-employee relationship has such a slanted power dynamic that when your job or manager is making you unhappy, sometimes it can feel like your only way to regain power is to quit—and then, that’ll show ’em. But this is rarely satisfying. Your employer may be surprised at first, but people leave jobs all the time—they’ll quickly get over it. And you don’t want to be jobless just to make a point.

If you do end up deciding to quit, you’ll feel a lot better knowing that you thought it through carefully and deliberately before you took the plunge.