To Defer or Not to Defer?

Authored by:
Maggie G.

When asked about why I decided to take a gap year I usually smile and respond that “it’s a long story.” It is a long story, so grab a snack and get comfy. When I was halfway through high school, and getting bombarded with questions from friends, relatives and complete strangers about what my plans for next year, I remember getting asked if I’d ever consider taking a gap year. I would usually scoff and say “no way.” I thought gap years were for kids who didn’t really know what they wanted to do in college or beyond. That was not me. I had been really self-motivated throughout high school and knew exactly what I wanted to do in college: I wanted to major in Economics, write for my college newspaper and do internships at different publications in the summers so that I could pursue journalism as a career out of college with a well-stacked resume. That was my plan until mid-July, the summer after I graduated.

I was in Europe for a month with my best friend. We had been planning and saving for nearly a year, and thinking of this trip had gotten me through those last few months of high school. We were a week into our trip and were on a train from Switzerland to Italy. I was having the time of my life and was staring out the window thinking about what an amazing time I was having.

I’m having such an amazing time! Yesterday I swam in a river that was turquoise it was so blue! I went on a hike to a literal castle! I can see THE ALPS out of my window! I wish life was like this all the time! I don’t want to go home in a month! I don’t...want to go to school.

That was the first time I had considered taking a gap year. A week later I talked with my best friend about it. I said that I loved traveling, being the master of my own destiny and that the thought of sitting in a 500-person lecture made me super sad. I told him that I wasn’t excited about college and that I thought I should be. “Yeah, you should be,” he said, and he was right. It’s completely normal to be nervous before going to college and also feel a little sad about summer ending, but I straight up did not want to go to school in the Fall. Talking to all my other friends solidified my feeling that I should be excited about going to school. Within a week of first thinking of taking a gap year I had already started researching programs and how to defer to my college.

My goals for my gap year were to pursue things that I truly loved without the stress of academics. I wanted to travel, learn a language and gain journalism experience. First semester I lived in Massachusetts with family, working at an ice cream shop and as a freelance writer for some local newspapers. I decided to do CIEE’s Seville Language & Culture Program so that I could learn Spanish, live abroad, and have time to travel on my own.

For me taking a gap year was, and is, a really good decision. I really needed this time, not to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but because I had figured out what I wanted to do with my life and needed a breather before I jumped in. I am more confident that I will prioritize self-care in college and not feel pressured to constantly stress about academics just for the sake of a grade. While I know my success in college won’t change compared to high school, my motivation definitely will have. This time for de-stressing and reflection has taught me a lot about how I view myself and my definition of success. I’ve become much more self-assured and have learned to be kinder to myself. I’m really excited for college now (partly because I am going to a different college which I will address in another post) and I’m excited to bring what I’ve learned abroad to college in the Fall.

Wow that was a long post. If you managed to stick with it until the end, I’m impressed. I don’t think I would have. If you’ve skimmed this until the bottom, welcome back. We’re at the part where I bestow my wisdom upon you. Here is what I think about gap years now: I think everyone should look into them. I don’t think there’s only one type of person who could benefit from a gap year and I also don’t think every person should take one. If you are feeling lost and don’t really know what to do with your life then a gap year could be useful in that it would give you time to explore and reflect. If (like me) you’ve got it all planned out but high school really did a doozy on you then maybe you need a year to breathe. If you or your family can’t afford a year off for traveling or what else that is totally valid. I should add that I know people who have taken a year off before college to work and save money who really enjoyed themselves and learned a lot. I worked half the year to save up some money so I could travel for the second half. If you are super psyched for college then that’s awesome and maybe you shouldn’t take a gap year! All in all, a gap year shouldn’t be overlooked and I highly recommend one!

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