Well I’ve made it through my 3rd year at Hollins, I’ve settled into my summer, and now that I’m not so busy with homework and other school obligations I have some new thoughts for you. Perhaps I’ll start a summer blog series. Or perhaps I’ll just post this one and let it stand on its own. We’ll see if I get more inspiration.
Before coming to Hollins, I hadn’t really heard of Gap Years. And if I had, no one had proposed them to me as an option. And I certainly wish they had, though I’m not sure I would have taken one. In retrospect, I should have. I’ve been a “professional student” for my entire life. If you consider that, except for summers, most of us have been in school from 7-3 or thereabouts, 5 days a week, roughly 9 months a year, for 13 years, we are all professional students. We’ve been trained to sit in school and learn, and then go home and study for school. When you get to college this is intensified by rigorous courses and the need to balance a social and educational life with sleep. In addition the costs of university are growing. Most of us plan to attempt a graduate program also. Needless to say, we’ve had little time to think about many of the big questions that a costly education demands we know. The biggest is probably some combination of “What do you want to do with your life/your degree/after you graduate?” And I certainly think that a gap year gives you the opportunity for clarity outside of the classroom, but they are not for everyone and that is understandable.
That’s not to say that I’m unhappy with my choice to come to Hollins when I did. I’m so proud to be part of the Class of 2015. I couldn’t imagine Hollins any other way than as I have experienced it with my 2015 friends and those that have since left Hollins. I’m saying instead that I feel that I have missed an amazing opportunity to make some decisions in life and I’m certain that a gap year could have been one year of amazing self-discovery. Most students that I know who have taken a gap year have come back from it more prepared than before for school with some of those huge life questions and answers. Some of those questions never get answered, but at least you can begin to have an idea if you’ve had time to do exactly what you want. If you come to school rather certain of what you want to do or where you want to end up, it helps. Certainly not everyone who comes in to university with a clear intention of what they want to do will continue to pursue those same interests. University changes you, it opens your mind. The same way a gap year spent working, traveling, and discovering yourself does.
There are a ton of programs that can help you find internships, jobs, and make travel abroad simpler during your gap year. Gap years are very popular in the UK. There are scholarships for gap years if you complete them with organizations like Americorps & CityYear. Some gap years cost as much as a year of university if all you are doing is traveling, or if you are paying a company to locate you for your gap year.
Here are a couple benefits I found for taking a gap year:
1. Gap year students who took a year off after completing high school are less likely to burn out in college. Harvard recommends in its admission letter (and has for the past 40 years) and on its website that students accepting admission should defer and take a gap year. I would really recommend that you read Harvard’s “Should I Take Time Off?” page
2. If you’re worried you won’t go back, 90% of students returned to school after their gap year. Source
Gap years are not for everyone, and they are not always a success. But with planning and foresight, a gap year can be quite beneficial. And if you’re afraid of being a year “behind” your classmates, I doubt you’ll even notice. Also – you can take gap years in the middle of university. You can still com back and still be involved. Don’t let the fear of what is different when you return keep you from coming back to university. Think of it this way: it was like you took a year abroad, something that is becoming more common among university students. Just like those that went abroad, you will bring back new experiences, knowledge, and outlooks to every situation that you are in. Two of my good friends I met my first year are a year older because they took a year away from university to pursue other interests. I have some very insightful conversations with them on a regular basis and I go to them because I find myself respecting them as wiser and with life experiences different from my own. University is not just about learning from your professors, its about learning from the people all around you.
To close, if you’re lucky enough to be able to have the opportunity to take a gap year, do so. Or plan for one after university is over. Or during if you need it. This is the time in our lives where we are able to be self-focused and I find that to be something terribly important. But no matter what, arrive in the fall ready to work and with an open mind. Because university will change you. Hollins will change you more.