Out of the 86 students in my graduating class, 30 opted to take a gap year before going on to college. While it is very common in Australia, where I went to highschool,it is almost unheard of in the U.S. In moving to America last year, I became an outlier – a part of the 1.2% of American students who chose to defer their college matriculation. Even though there has recently been an increased interest in gap years in the U.S.few American students actually decide to take the plunge. Whatever the reason for this may be, I hope that in sharing my experience, I can shine more light onto the gap year and why it may be right for you!
I spent my gap year doing a variety of things: I left Sydney, my home of fourteen years, and along with it my friends, and moved to Boston, where I had to transition into a new life and integrate into a new community and culture; I gained work experience through a variety of full- and part-time jobs as well as internships (my favorite of which was at Willsey Connections!); I hiked and kayaked through the Alaskan backcountry with the National Outdoor Leadership School; I took classes at my local community college for a semester; I watched all nine seasons of The Office in under two months ( my parents were not too proud but I see it as an accomplishment); I traveled to and explored places near and far; and, of course, I worked on my college applications. I spent my time expanding my perspective and interests, strengthening my weaknesses and skills, developing my passions, exploring the world and finding my purpose within it.
I chose to take a gap year for both practical and personal reasons. On the practical level, my family was going to be moving halfway across the world in January, 2 months before University would have started, making travel/living arrangements and overall logistics a LOT more complicated than they would have been otherwise. On a personal level, I honestly just didn’t feel ready to go straight on to the next step yet. I wasn’t in a space where I would have been able to get the most out of a college experience, and enjoy doing so – I was lacking a sense of self and direction that, for me, is necessary in order to find meaning and having drive. I was not going to “take the next step” in my life and go to college in knowing that I would not have been putting my best foot forward to do so.
Even though I was completely confident in my decision to defer my college plans, I was still petrified. I didn’t really know anyone who lived in Boston or what I was going to do when I got there. I didn’t know how I would fare in the U.S college admissions process, or really, what that entailed. I was scared to leave my friends, who I had known since kindergarten, and wondered how I was going to meet other people my age if I wasn’t in school. I was even nervous about the weather, coming from a place that is 75 degrees and sunny year round. *transition*
This gap year has given me the time, space, and often solitude to reflect on and understand myself and my past experiences in ways and on levels that I was either too busy, too distracted, or just never realized I needed to. Parting with my closest friends has made me appreciate our support for one another much more. Moving across the world with my family has made the bonds between us much stronger. Creating a new life for myself in a new city taught me how to put myself out there without worrying what gets sent back. Integrating into a new culture has exposed me to different perspectives, deepened my capacity to understand them, and strengthened my ability to share my own. In doing so, I realized just how much I love learning about, understanding, and connecting to people and the world. Most importantly, though, having my future unplanned forced me to become comfortable with the unknown, as well as with forging my own path forward.
The beauty of the gap year is that you can spend it however you choose – you can spend it locally or abroad, with others or alone, earning money or volunteering, working or relaxing. Your gap year is exactly that: yours. And even though no two gap years are spent the same way, the benefits of taking one seem to be shared by all those who do.
Take a second to check out this link for more information on the benefits of taking a gap year:https://gapyearassociation.org/data-benefits.php. To those of you in the throws of college applications, take a moment to consider if the gap year is right for you. While deviating from a more traditional path can be intimidating or seem like a sure-fire way to fall behind, remember that taking a step back can actually be a step forward. In the case of gap years, I have found this to be absolutely true, and I know my fellow ‘gappers’ would agree with me.