Leap (a School) Year
Leap (a School) YearJohnathan Allen, University of Central Florida student and College Board intern
Set the scene:
Outside a small cabin in Viareggio, Italy, is the sound of the Ligurian Sea dancing around the littoral rocks, while inside you are enjoying the breakfast of a nice, warm, buttery jam-filled cornetti, accompanied by a steaming cup of Italian coffee. With open windows, you enjoy the breeze from the coast and the smell of a rich culture. Mmmm…
Just a few months ago you were accepted into that college you were dying to get into. And, like Florida weather, you haphazardly changed your mind and decided to instead defer and take a gap year before attending. Good or bad decision?
Students take a gap year for many different reasons. The months before college can be the perfect time for students to experience a different culture, learn a new language, volunteer for a cause they feel strongly about, or possibly explore their career interests.
A gap experience, which can be as short as a few months or as long as a year, is pretty commonplace in areas such as Europe and Australia, but not so much in the U.S. While it has become something of a recent fad in the states, students often still get that queasy stomach feeling and a lump in their throats when trying to decide if taking a gap year is the best decision for their future. Can you blame them?
Think back to when you were in high school, to the struggles you may have faced. High school is a stressful time. You spend four long years trying to be the best, then months in the tedious and befuddling process of completing college applications and financial aid information (and let’s not forget the crying that goes along with this). Then, you finally get accepted — only to push it off for a year? Makes no sense, right?
Consider the following:
- As Americans, we’ve become conditioned to understand our pathway as completing high school, attending college immediately after, and then finding a great paying job. While for some students taking a detour from college could mean falling off the education wagon completely, a gap year goes a long way to ensuring some students recognize that there is a life after high school that is not college. Sometimes, it’s nice to get away from the academic grind and take a break.
- According to the American Gap Association, 90 percent of students who take a gap year attend or returned to college within a year.
- Many people think only students from wealthy families can take advantage of a gap year. In fact, there are many organizations, such as Carpe Mundi and Global Citizen Year, that offer full or partial scholarships and other financial aid to high school graduates. These organizations offer the chance to participate in work-related educational travel and other programs during a gap year so that students can learn through cultural immersion and exploration. Anecdotal evidence often shows that we develop most when the world around us changes, because our understanding of ourselves also changes.
- Taking a gap year encourages students to get out of their comfort zone, because this is the perfect time to test their limits, meet different people, and immerse themselves in completely different cultures. It is a time to take chances and to make mistakes. Many students enter college because they are comfortable with the idea of college. They fail to realize that just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that they can’t do it. They just haven’t taken the time to explore that option yet.
Consider using a gap year as an opportunity to “deschool” but rediscover learning. So much of the school experience is encased in a room surrounded by four walls and a few windows, while someone lectures you on the Principles of Modern Urodynamic studies, Regiomontanus' Angle Maximization problem, Solubility and Electrochemistry, or even English 101. A gap year can help students go beyond those walls, figure out their place in the world, and see how they are only a small part of something much larger.
My message to students: A gap year gives you the chance to smoothly transition between two different life phases, while at the same time trying to figure out who you are, what you want to accomplish, and what you next step(s) in life will be. It’s a time to reflect and take a deep breath and realize all of your hard work. It’s a time for self-actualization.
I’m sure you’re wondering if I took a gap year. Actually, I didn’t. Looking back on it, I don’t regret it either. At that time, I only had one thing on my mind, and that was to finish what I started. The pressure from my family and friends and everyone who supported me was too much to bear. To me, a gap year seemed like an easy “out.” I didn’t want to be like the people I saw when I walked to school every morning. There was a fire inside me that just made my desire to continue through college, burn more and more —with an increasing, yet positive, ferocity. I welcomed every challenge and minor setback with open arms, because in the end, I learned who I was and what I was capable of. I found myself — even without the benefit of a gap year.
Johnathan Allen will graduate from the University of Central Florida in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Adminstration. He was a cast member in the documentary film, Roadtrip Nation, and he has done two summer internships at the College Board.