Taking a Gap Year (Guest Post)

Find Jorge's blog at https://jorgezhang.com.

Hello everyone! A couple of weeks ago, Liam made a fascinating guest post about senioritis on my blog, which you can find here. That got me thinking about something I could write about for Liam's blog. I decided that I wanted to talk about something that is currently on the minds of almost every high school senior: what am I going to do next year (and for the rest of my life)?

A year ago I was in the same position, and the only thing I knew was that I wanted to avoid immediately going to college. This was partially the contrarian in me wanting to rebel against the college "path" that had been pre-prescribed to me and everyone else. More than that though, I realized that it was my best chance of fulfilling a personal project that I had been working on with another student for the past six months (creating and publishing a board game). I was skeptical that I would be able to find the time to pursue a project like that once I started attending college, as it would take away valuable time that I needed to study and pursue internships or jobs. I figured that it would be even more difficult to find the time after graduating college, not to mention the difficulties with picking back up where I left off after 4 years. That's when I learned about the perfect option for my situation, the gap year.

Why take a gap year?

I could list a bunch of statistics and facts about taking a gap year, but truthfully I think that would be missing the point. In my opinion, the value in taking a gap year is all intrinsic. For example, the first thing I realized after starting my gap year was how much time I had each day. It sounds crazy, but I arguably had too much time. This was in stark contrast to my busy high school days, where I felt like I never had any time at all. At first, my bad habits naturally expanded to fill that void. I spent a lot of time browsing the internet, playing video games, and watching Netflix. However, I eventually came to the realization that this wasn't fulfilling me. It was not making me satisfied with my life. I needed purpose.

Finding purpose is not something we think about when it is answered for us. In school, your given purpose is to study hard to get good grades. When no one is telling you what to do, this gets much harder and also much more important. Luckily, given enough time, finding purpose tends to happens on accident. For me, I never thought that I would become a tutor. Yet, it has now become a large part of what drives me to learn and improve. That's why I am not so sure of the common assertion that you need to know what you want to do before you take a gap year. Having a vague idea is a great starting point, but part of the gap year is about self-discovery and finding purpose. That brings me to the first reason you may want to take a gap year: to find purpose.

This next point is often one of the first things mentioned when it comes down to the benefit of taking a gap year. I am talking about "burning out," which generally refers to a negative mentality towards learning. The truth is that it is going to be a lot harder to get a lot out of college if you don't enjoy learning. Luckily, burnout is usually not a fault of the student themselves. Something I noticed throughout my gap year was how much easier it was for me to read books. I used to really struggle to finish required readings, even if they were only several pages. Nowadays, I am reading (and writing!) all the time. As a tutor, I have even had to re-learn topics such as chemistry or punctuation, and found it much more pleasant the second time around. Fundamentally, I didn't do anything to make myself enjoy learning, which is what surprised me so much about this discovery. That brings me to the second reason: a gap year can increase your intrinsic motivation to learn.

I think that these two reasons are the largest factors that you should consider when taking a gap year. Other reasons can include wanting to spend more time with family, having time to work on a personal project, having time to find a job and gain work experience, or to travel. I realize that a gap year is usually associated with backpacking across Europe and traveling the world. I have nothing against traveling, though I personally don't think traveling should be a large factor for those deciding whether they want to take a gap year or not. Firstly, you can travel at almost any point in your life by studying abroad or simply taking a vacation. More importantly, traveling is not a panacea for personal development (though it can definitely help). In my opinion, getting the most out of a gap year requires reflective thought, which is why I haven't listed travel in my 2 main points. In general, I would recommend against taking a gap year to have fun (because it probably won't be as fun as you think).

That's why I wanted to spend the rest of this section talking about a few of the downsides to taking a gap year. For one, taking a gap year can make it difficult to find places to socially interact with people your own age. While it is definitely possible to find people to interact with through local clubs or groups, it can be a lot harder to relate to them due to the age difference. It can also be very difficult to find a job or internship. I wanted to take advantage of having a year to get some work experience, but finding those opportunities and then applying to them was a lot of work, and ultimately not very fruitful. It's important to keep these downsides in mind when considering a gap year. Overall, I would not say that a gap year is better or worse than going straight to college- it's just a different experience.