Thinking about taking a gap year? Consider this…

From Micaela Beigel

Why I chose to take a gap year and what you should consider if you’re considering taking one, too.

I knew I wanted to take a gap year long before my senior year of high school. In the Jewish community where I grew up it was a common practice, and I was lucky to see this experience modeled by older peers. It did not escape me then, or now, how privileged I was to have family and friends who supported my decision to take a gap year, when doing so is less common in the United States than in other parts of the world.

There are several reasons I knew a gap year was right for me, the least of which being that there was a program I dearly wanted to experience and a group of friends who were committed to doing it alongside me. It was also a personal decision that reflected a growing sense of academic burnout and a desire to try learning in new ways before college. So, while I went through a traditional college search process and applied to college my senior year of high school, I knew I would delay the start of my college career by a year.

During my gap year, I lived in Israel and participated in a program of collective living with peers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. I met friends from countries all over the world and traveled to Poland, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. I spent my time volunteering at a youth center in the Hatikvah neighborhood of Tel Aviv, working with refugees and asylum seekers who lived there.

While some people take gap years for professional development or economic necessity, my gap year reflected a personal desire to grow internally. I used this time to learn about myself, what I wanted, and the type of global citizen I hoped to become. I grew immeasurably during my time off from school, and in the years since I have become an ardent supporter of gap years, first as an older peer to friends and now as a college admissions counselor. If you are considering taking a gap year here are a few thoughts to guide you as you make this decision.

Consideration: Time Away from School

One of the biggest allures of a gap year is that it allows students to take a year away from school before progressing from the race of high school to the reality of college. This break can serve many purposes, but it also alters the typical educational timeline.

As a twin, I was very conscious of how taking a gap year disrupted my educational plan and put me out of sync with my sister. While she started college, I was having a different life experience. I worried that I would struggle to adjust back to academic life. Or what if I lost the spark for learning altogether? Luckily, my gap year sparked new interests and passions in me that made me excited to start a new chapter in college. I developed as a person, making me more excited to join a new community.

Consideration: Focus on your Goals

There are many reasons to take a gap year, including personal growth, familial obligation, economic necessity, and professional development. Each of these comes with a goal to be met and a journey to get there.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is considering a gap year is to look at the big picture first. Ask yourself why this decision feels appealing. Consider what you hope to gain from this experience. Use these answers to propel you towards clarity. I recommend a solid planning process before submitting any paperwork to your college.

Consideration: Planning a Gap Year

Planning is a big part of every successful gap year. In my experience, there is a gap-year plan to suit most folks who want to take one. What I mean is that as gap years become more common and accessible, more resources exist to find an experience that fits your needs.

For example, I spent my gap year on a structured 9-month program, which required little planning on my part. You may want more creative control to plan a solo trip, internship, research experience, or employment opportunity. Just keep in mind that these kinds of experiences may take more planning.

Consideration: Gained Life Experience

As a gap-year student, you enter college with greater life experience than some of your peers. You will be a year older than most and this can be a massive perk. Not only did I gain self-knowledge during my gap year, but I also gained confidence and perspective. Having more time to learn about yourself and the goals you have is always a good thing

However, there were times when my gap year made my first year of college difficult.  As a first-year, I felt older than my peers because I had already lived on my own and I had already experienced so many “firsts” people associate with college. My first few months of college were a time of struggle, socially, as I fought to figure out where I fit in amongst my peers. I am happy to note that this discomfort finds its ease and that this kind of adjustment is normal for all first-year college students.

Conclusion:

Six years later, I remain a strong advocate for taking a gap year. My time abroad at 17 aided me in college, as a study abroad student, and later as an international master’s degree student. While taking a gap year is not for everyone, I think its value can be immeasurable for the right people. If you are considering a gap year, I encourage you to reach out to trusted peers and mentors for help during your consideration. You can always contact me or one of my colleagues in Admissions as well.

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