The idea of a gap year can be a difficult thing to conceptualize. On the one hand, there seems to be an expectation of great things—exploration, adventure, charity, and maturity. These associations can be paralyzing, making you wonder if you are really gap year material after all. On the other hand, it is tempting to reduce a gap year to nothing more than a year-long break from school. After all, what else could possibly be entailed by the word “gap?” Or perhaps these two conceptions of a gap year go hand in hand—one must do great things if one is to take anything away from their gap year.
Granted, there may be some value in pursuing extraordinary experiences during a gap year, but in reality, this is by no means essential. Consider instead that taking a gap year is less about how you spend your year and more about making the decision to take a year off from school in the first place. To be able to make this decision requires not only tremendous honesty with yourself, but also great willpower, which together constitute taking responsibility for your own life. This is no small feat. For better or for worse, we are not given much responsibility for our own upbringings. Even summer break, which may seem analogous to a gap year, is something that is prescribed to us. No matter how we choose to spend that time, it is not in place of school, but rather in addition to it. If you choose to take a gap year, however, you are choosing to spend a year doing something instead of school during that year. It is an active rejection of the course of life that is expected of you at all levels of society.
Furthermore, by deciding to take a gap year, you immediately subject yourself to near-total accountability for yourself for the ensuing year. This creates a level of self-awareness and intentionality which is important to have throughout life, but especially beneficial heading into college. Of course, it may be argued that there is no need to rush one’s growth, as college is meant to prepare you for life. But consider how this is supposed to work. You are offered endless opportunities in college (courses, extracurriculars, people, etc.), each of which prepares you for life in a unique way, and you are given the responsibility of choosing which ones to take advantage of. You have four years to do this, and then it’s done. You can’t go back, at least not very easily. How can you possibly understand how you want your college experience to shape your adult life if you have no idea what adult life is like?
Somewhat ironically, the idea of taking a gap year can feel similarly daunting, as it is also a tiny window of immense opportunity. And this is not to be understated. The saying “The world is your oyster” is never truer than during a gap year. But remember this: taking a gap year is less about taking a step into a new world and much more about taking a step out of your old world in order to expand your perspective, because chances are you will both want and need to return to this world for the rest of your life, and that’s the one you really want to be your oyster.
Author : Sasha Elenko