Summer after Senior Year of High School. Everybody is making plans and getting excited for College. That’s the way it seemed, at least for everybody but me. I always knew I wanted to go to college, but I also knew that I didn’t want to do it right after High School. So, that left me with a Gap Year. I eventually joined AmeriCorps: National Civilian Community Corps, which was ten months of awesome volunteer work around the United States. I was extremely nervous about this decision but in hind sight, it was one of the best choices I have ever made. To anybody thinking about a Gap Year before or after College, here is an (albeit small) list of Pro’s and Con’s.
If you are anything like me, you struggle with any decision, even if it’s what to make for dinner. So, trying to decide a major, classes, and ultimately the rest of my life weighed pretty heavily on me. Especially because I had no clue about what I wanted to do or be. Taking off school to focus on who you are and what you want out of life gives you an amazing sense of clarity. I felt like I had time to find myself. I decided what I wanted my future career to be. I’m sure that these things are subject to change as I continue to develop at IU, but having a strong base feels pretty great.
Once I graduated High School I was burnt out on the idea of learning. Opening a book and being forced to read it sounded like the worst punishment there was. Honestly, I would have been glad to never step foot in a school again. However, once you spend an entire year away from school, you’d be amazed at how much you miss it. When you’re stuck doing a job or task that’s highly repetitive and boring, your mind craves stimulation. At the end of the year I couldn’t wait to get back to classes and even homework. Especially when you have a great school, like IU, to look forward to!
I am happy to say that thanks to my Gap Year I know almost one person from every state. This comes in handy not only for a night to stay on that summer road trip, but for the possible connections they can help you get when it comes to future employment. Not only did I make these personal connections, but I also had the pleasure of working for four different organizations that all extended well wishes and offers to come back. One directly offered a job if my studies wound up in their realm. Any job offer is a good one, and as many have said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
I can’t say I did anything that thrilling or worth talking about during High School. But after my Gap Year, I had a lot of cool stories to share and a lot of experiences that were unique. Not everyone can say they lived in a tent in the Colorado Mountains, or helped Arizona Game and Fish gill net for Northern Pike research, etc. I’m not saying this means you have better stories than everybody else, but it does help you stand out. Not to mention, because Gap Year isn’t that common, chances are you’ll be the official word when it comes to advice.
I’ve always believed you shouldn’t let the judgment of others from keeping you from what you want to do. That being said, you’re still going to have to find a way to deal with it. Although my year was off doing volunteer work, many people still gave me the "tsk tsk" for not going to school right away. I would get asked if I wasn’t smart enough to go to college, am I ever going, how desirable it must be to ‘take a year off’, etc. I would never have let these comments affect my Gap Year, but at times it was difficult and annoying to deal with.
How I dealt with it: When you can convey how happy something makes you, and how passionate you are about it to others, they’ll often get as excited as you. Being able to really sell your experience helps others understand your choice. If they’re still on your case, just realize its your life and you can’t live it for others.
Remember how after summer vacation some of your school skill sets seemed a little rusty? Well, now imagine that feeling after an entire year. For my better classes, I had no problem getting right back into the routine. However, for some classes like *cough* Calculus, the transition wasn’t so easy. I was never good at math to begin with, and a year off certainly did nothing to help my case. I had to work extra hard, get a tutor, and still barely passed. ( But, who knows how much better it would have been without the Gap Year?) Just be aware, that this could be a challenge.
How I dealt with it: Like I said, I had to work harder and get a tutor. I’d never needed help with school before so it was a little embarrassing at first; however, having a tutor actually made my homework more fun. We would get Starbucks, he’d help me with my homework, and having someone there made it feel like less of a chore.
One of the hardest things to come from Gap Year came once it was over. Imagine, you’re in class and you look to your right. It’s someone from your High School and they’re a year younger than you! It took this to realize that I wasn’t going to graduate with my class anymore. I was a Freshman when all my friends were Sophomores. It wasn’t a great feeling. Granted, I ended up being friends with people of all classes and age, but I know seeing my friends walk across the graduation stage a year before me won’t be easy.
How I dealt with it: I still struggle with the feeling of ‘being behind’, but I just remind myself how worth it it was to take my Gap year and all those feelings slip away. I’m still at IU even if I am a year behind. Plus, now all my friends know the In and Outs and I get to benefit from their experiences!
These Pro’s and Con’s all come from my personal experience. I can’t say they will be the same for you, but hopefully they prompt you to think about the advantages you can gain and the challenges you can face by taking a year "off". I highly encourage everybody to take a Gap Year, but I know it isn’t right for everyone. I will say that IU did a great job working with my Gap Year! They bent over backwards to help me out several times, but those are stories for a different day!
Here are just a few of the Photos from my GAP Year: