Is This the Quintessential Gap Year?

I can’t pinpoint exactly when this mindset began, but for the majority of my high school career I hated the idea of going to college. Not just taking harder classes, but living in a dorm, leaving all of my hometown friends, and the mindless partying I associated it with.  

This might sound all too familiar to some, as college is not made for everyone. No one ever said it was mandatory that I go to a four year college, but for most of my life I pictured myself going to one because that’s what most people in my small suburban bubble seemed to be doing. Because I didn’t yet know what my own dreams for the future were, I seemed to take on the dreams of others and the dreams other people had for me.

 In almost every high school rom-com you hear someone reverently speaking the words “these will be the best years of your life, so enjoy it,” specifically at a graduation ceremony or school dance or life-altering football game. I remember hearing these words and thinking “wow, if these are supposedly the best four years of my life, then college is going to be a train wreck.”

In my mind the phrase “junior year” is synonymous with “SAT,” “college visits,” and “GPA,” which were new things I had never worried about in the past. I wasn’t even taking AP classes yet I was constantly stressed, wondering when I could finally take a step off the hamster wheel I had been running on since age 8. When would I have the chance to do something just because I wanted to?

After many sour college visits and 10pm talks with my mom spent crying over the fact that nothing felt right, I knew college just wasn’t right for me right now. Not for forever, just the foreseeable future.

Back in December when I first made the decision to take a gap year, I felt alone and isolated in my choice. But I now have a community of people also taking a year off because of the coronavirus, which seemed to alter anyone and everyone’s detailed plans for the future. We’re all taking time off of school for different reasons. Like me, some want to take a deep breath, and refocus what is important to them before jumping back into school. Some never found a school where they would be happy and others just didn’t see themselves spending their first year of college always in a mask. All these reasons are perfectly acceptable for a year off, and now more than ever, felt by a wider range of students.

Furthering your education is a privilege in itself, and taking a year off before going to college is even more of one. You may picture a gap year as a trip through Europe, pulling all nighters, stopping at every bar and nightclub on your radar. Not all gap years are like that though, and you don’t have to break the bank to take one. If you go into it with the right mindset of “I want clarity on where to attend school” or “I want real life job experience” or even “I want to experience a new culture”, you will have a more meaningful year.

Making the decision to not go to college took confidence I wasn’t really sure I had. And honestly, even as I am midway through my gap year, sometimes I ask myself if this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I had my year all planned out to get the most meaning out of it. I was supposed to go to India and study climate change, possibly get a job in New York City, and have time to take photography classes back home. With these plans shattered because of COVID-19, I quickly came up with a plan B. It would have been easy to wallow in self pity for a while, but I knew I wasn’t going to waste my year, the year I had dedicated to my own growth and discovery, scrolling through TikTok. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past six months, it’s that our generation can be pretty creative when necessary. For me, that means living in DC with a friend while taking a few fashion courses online and interning at Promly. What does the newfound freedom to be creative mean for you? Are you going to visit a relative in Hawaii and learn to surf? Or do you finally have the time to do the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training that just didn’t fit in your schedule before? Do you want to start a YouTube gaming channel so you can connect with friends from afar? Or do you want to help others struggling in school and tutor young children?

The world is our oyster right now- we have the freedom to reimagine what life after highschool might look like. No matter how you choose to shape your future, go out into the world and do something just because you want to do it. I know it’s scary, but as the cliche goes: feel the fear and do it anyway. From someone who’s made the untraditional decision, let me tell you, if you are considering a gap year, it’s worth a try.

Published by Jane Biedermann

Jane is an intern at Promly and a fashion merchandising student at LIM College. She is a cupcake connoisseur and probably currently thinking about how to reverse climate change.