Most of Kate Alexander’s friends are stressing out about getting into law school or landing a job.

But Alexander, 21, has no intention of plunging into the real world right away.

After she graduates from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., in May, Alexander and fellow English major Christine Bradford will house-sit in Santa Fe, N.M., while working temp jobs and saving money for a jaunt to London on a six-month work visa.

What will they be doing there? They’re not sure.

But one thing they do know: They aren’t ready to resign themselves to a 9-to-5 office job and two weeks of annual vacation.

Like Alexander and Bradford, an increasing number of twentysomethings are detouring around the corporate world. University officials don’t have exact figures, but they report that more and more graduates are taking time off to travel, volunteer, work abroad or pursue their passions.

Colleen Kinder calls it the "anti-cubicle revolution."

Kinder, the author of Delaying the Real World: A Twentysomething’s Guide to Seeking Adventure, spent a year working at nursing homes in Cuba and urges graduates to explore their options.

"There is no rush to be boring," Kinder says.

Time off can strengthen young people’s independence and critical-thinking skills and broaden their perspective on the world, says Nadene Francis, assistant director for public relations in the Career Resource Center at the University of Florida.

"It can be an exciting time, something that recharges them and gives them goals," Francis says.

Twentysomethings have more options than ever, says Jeffrey Arnett, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland.

Because more are waiting to marry and start families, they are creating a period when they’re not strongly committed to adult roles.

"A lot are very reluctant to get on that (corporate) track," says Arnett, author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties.

"Once you’re on it, it’s hard to get off. Once you do get married and have children and have a long-term career path, you’re going to be on that road for the rest of your adult life until you retire."

Of course, some graduates have no choice but to start chipping away at their student loans.

The price of a college education continues to rise, and with it, student debt. The average college graduate leaves school owing $17,000 to $20,000 in college loans, according to the Princeton Review, which publishes annual academic guidebooks.

"Many students don’t have the luxury of going out and finding themselves. They have to find something" to pay their debt, says Erik Olson, director of guidebook publications.

Those who financed their educations through parent contributions, work-study, scholarships or financial aid can afford to be more flexible. And society has become more accepting of alternative plans after college, Arnett says.

Yet it’s still not the norm in this country.

In the United Kingdom, taking time off is a tradition known as a "gap year." In Australia, an extended period of travel is seen as a rite of passage.

But in the United States, it’s work, work, work.

"There’s a real sense that you need to immediately engage yourself in the career world," says Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding, a guide to long-term global travel. "The Puritan work ethic has been such a huge part of the culture."

Too strong a work ethic early in life can lead to regret later in life, another author says.

Midlife crises are made of the things that we didn’t do, the paths we didn’t pursue, says Michael Landes, author of Back Door Jobs, a reference book that lists volunteer and offbeat short-term jobs around the world.

Landes encourages fleeing from the flock "instead of being the sheep of America."

Matt MacKelcan has never been one to follow the herds.

When he was a communications major at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, MacKelcan took a year off and worked at a golf course in Hilton Head, S.C.

The time off helped him realize what he really wanted to do: pursue music professionally.

MacKelcan returned to school and earned a degree in vocal music from Rollins College. Since graduating in 2003, he has been chasing his musical dreams full time.

The Matt MacKelcan Band has played throughout the country, from Austin, Texas, to Philadelphia, and MacKelcan hopes to launch a college tour later this year

In general, though, the work is unsteady. Sometimes MacKelcan will play nine shows in two weeks. Other times he’ll perform much less frequently and supplement his income with his job at a restaurant in Winter Park.

MacKelcan constantly worries about money.

But when he’s onstage, all of those worries disappear and he thinks, There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Alexander knows the feeling.

During her junior year, she spent a semester in London and fell in love with the city. Bradford, who lived in London the following semester, had a similar experience.

"Everyone comes back from London saying they’ll go back," Alexander says.

She and Bradford decided to actually do it.

Bradford says her mother was at first dismayed with her plans. For a while, the two didn’t speak.

But "I’m starting to get used to it," says Ruth Bradford.

Christine Bradford can’t wait to graduate and embark on her adventure.

"It’s the first time where I don’t know what the next step will be," she says.

© 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.