Maya Agne, 48, is happy to let you know that her 23-year-old daughter, Bhagyashree, isn’t doing anything these days, thank you very much. A computer engineer by training, Bhagyashree isn’t studying; nor has she landed that dream job. When she’s not running off to Goa, Singapore or Malaysia with friends and family, she spends her days in Mumbai, trying to figure out what to make of her life.
Bhagyashree—who gave up a cushy IT job because she didn’t see herself “staring into a computer screen and writing codes for evermore”—is taking a year off and Agne, a Nagpur-based doctor, is willing to indulge her.
The beneficiary: A gap year after graduation helped Krithi Rangachari decide her career path. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“I’d been confused and it took me a while to figure things out. But after I worked on a short-term job with a public relations firm, I planned to do an MBA from a university abroad and get a marketing job. I need a break before I get back to studies so I’m taking some time off now,” Bhagyashree says.
The concept of a gap year, long popular in the West, is catching on among youth here. Kanika Marwaha, the India representative of Warwick University, UK, says that compared to a decade ago, there has been an increase of 25-30% in the number of enquiries from students and parents about gapping and whether it is all right for a student to take time off after graduation. But in this age of structured career plans, does it make sense for parents to allow their children to lose a vital year?
Krithi Rangachari, 21, and her parents are emphatic that it does. This former student of Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi, was at a loose end after completing her BA in English literature. The usual career options of academics and journalism did not appeal to her; nor did she want to take MBA entrance exams like her friends.
“The idea of gapping arose out of a casual discussion. I knew she was not going to go ahead and do postgraduation just because that’s the existing trend. So we let her decide, as eventually it will be her career,” says Krithi’s father T.B. Rangachari, 53.
While she was still trying to zero in on a career, Krithi came across a job vacancy at The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a non-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals, and applied for it. Currently an administrative executive at TiE, where her responsibilities include event management and marketing, Krithi realized she did after all have an aptitude for management and is now keen to pursue an MBA. Her decision on a gap year paid off.
“I think my parents supported me because they knew that I wasn’t taking a gap year just to waste my time,” says Krithi. “We all knew I’ll get back to studying.”
“Time-bound” and “well-planned” are the two watchwords for career-conscious gappers. According to A.M. Sherry, chairman, joint admissions committee, Institute of Management Technology (IMT), gapping can be advantageous if it fits into one’s larger career scheme. “B-schools prefer candidates with work experience. If you’re taking a break to hone some talent you have, like music or arts, that’s advantageous too. We like to encourage well-rounded development,” he says.
Marwaha, however, warns against taking a break on a whim. She says very few students or parents understand what gapping is. Gap-year students have a responsibility to demonstrate what they did during the break. “A gap year is time spent away from studies to gain practical knowledge and experience. You could be volunteering, doing some job or just travelling.”
According to Marwaha, Indian educational institutions don’t bother too much about whether you took a year off or not. But foreign universities are another matter. An applicant is judged on the basis of his latest academic results. “So if you’re already enrolled in a BSc programme, but don’t attend class because you want to prepare for IIT, it doesn’t really matter for Indian universities, but a foreign grad school will want to know what you did in the interim. It’s vital to show what you did while gapping—academic pursuits, gained work experience or served community causes.”
As for Agne, she is glad her daughter decided to take a year off. She doesn’t mind the occasional raised eyebrow from inquisitive acquaintances when she fobs off queries about her daughter’s activities with a curt “nothing much”.
Mind the gap
If you’ve decided to gap, here is how you can spend the year gainfully
Learn a language, see the world
What better way to learn Spanish than hear it being sung by a flamenco singer in Barcelona? Websites, such as Abroadlanguages.com, list short-term courses.
Work your way through
This is the perfect way for MBA-aspirants to gain hands-on experience and add an edge to their résumés. Organizations such as AIESEC (www.aiesec.org/india) help students find internships and jobs abroad.
If social causes get you going, then volunteer. Most Indian NGOs encourage volunteers. You could volunteer for Smile Foundation, CRY or Pratham, all of which work for child welfare.