In an earlier post about my decision to take a gap year I mentioned that I had changed colleges. I wanted to go into that in more detail to answer lingering questions and also because my reasons and process connect a lot to why I took a gap year.
As I mentioned before I had gotten into half the schools I applied to (not the half I would’ve have preferred) and I had chosen a large public university in my state mostly because it had given me a really fantastic financial aid package. I wasn’t necessarily juiced to go there in the Fall but I figured that was normal (it is). At orientation in mid-June I met some of my future classmates. They were all perfectly nice people and there was no doubt that they were all incredibly intelligent. What got to me though was that they were just like me in one crucial way: it was obvious that we had all succeeded in high school fueled by a general anxiety about academics. I wanted college to be different. I wanted to learn for the sake of learning and succeed because I was excited by the class content, not because of my GPA. I took my gap year because I wanted time to recollect and experience what life is like without the stresses of academics so that in college I would know how to better handle my stress.
Once on my gap year I realized that I could apply to schools again if I really thought that the one I had chosen wasn’t for me. I decided it was worth it and the gamble paid off: I ended up being accepted ED into my top choice (a school I had been rejected from RD last year).
When I tell this story to high school students I worry that I’m conveying the wrong message so here is what you should take away and not take away from my experience:
- I would advise not to just take a gap year just to re-apply to colleges (that includes schools who previously rejected you and schools you have never applied to before). If that’s your whole reason for taking a gap year then I think that is going to be a pretty risky year. I didn’t decide to re-apply to schools because I thought my previous school wasn’t prestigious enough or I thought schools that had rejected me had made a mistake. What I wanted in a school then was completely different than what I wanted just a few months later. I reapplied to the school I will attend in the fall because I felt I hadn’t put in much effort into the application the first time around, I thought their journalism program was perfect for me and I regretted not applying ED the first time around. Even then I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t get in and had another four or five schools I was going to apply to if I was rejected or deferred (that I hadn’t applied to before and thought better aligned with my current goals for college). If you are thinking of taking a gap year just because you are unhappy with your current options then you might spend the whole year wishing you were at college, being tormented by your college friends Snap stories and Instagram posts.
- Think hard about waiting to apply to college until on a gap year because you think it will be less stressful. On the one hand, applying to college on a gap year was way less stressful than applying during senior year. It just felt like another thing I was doing. I had way more time on my hands to devote to my essays and no one was bugging me about it. I didn’t have 800 other nervous kids adding to my college anxiety. On the other hand, had I waited until my gap year to apply to college I still would have had to wade through senior year with 800 anxious kids going through the college process and honestly, I think that would have been worse. I think I would have been more anxious hearing about all my friends and their college stories and I would have constantly doubted my choice to wait. Also, if you wait to apply you will still need letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors. I can tell you from experience that it is way harder to get letters of rec when you can’t walk into their office because you are across the country or world. Your school will forget about you a lot sooner than you think. Looking back, I still would’ve applied to college senior year. You can do it either way, just know that there will be pros and cons regardless.
- Do have faith in your decisions. If I’m being completely honest, I probably would have been happy at my previous college. Obviously I’m really happy things worked out the way they did, but if they hadn’t I think I still would’ve ended up on top. I definitely would have needed an adjustment period but I think I would have been fine. If I wasn’t fine then I could have transferred. A lot of my friends were nervous about going to college and many of them didn’t get into their first choice. Almost all of my friends are having a blast in college and of those who aren’t, it’s not because of the college they chose. College is a huge transition and no matter where you go there are going to be challenges and adjustments.
Do not take the college process to heart. Almost everyone will face a rejection during the college process. For some people it’s the first real rejection they’ve received and that can be tough. It’s completely valid to feel sad and angry when rejected from school. You feel that everything that you’ve worked for, all of your life experiences, have just been skimmed and then tossed in the recycling bin. What you have to remember is that a rejection letter is not a rejection of you; it’s a rejection of a piece of paper that in a perfect world is supposed to encapsulate you. But it’s impossible for a 600-word essay, some numbers, and a letter or two can add up to one human being.