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Taking a Gap Year Before College: 3 Collegiette Success Stories

Does it seem like all your friends have big college plans except for you?  Are you unsure about what you want to do after high school? Maybe you know what you want to do, but it doesn’t necessarily involve college right away.  Well, you’re not alone!

Delaying college enrollment has become an increasingly popular option for high school graduates across the country – whether it’s taking a gap year to travel or work, or just taking a little time off to explore your interests and find your passion.  While it may frighten you or your parents at first, opting to take time off before college can be a rewarding decision if it helps you figure out what you want to do with your future, takes you on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and even saves you money!

Finding Your Footing

Taylor Korth grew up in a small town in Kansas.  By the end of high school, she – like many collegiettes – had no idea what she wanted to do with her future.  

“I graduated high school in 2011 and was the first one in my family to go to college,” she says. “My friends all had a plan of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do, but I unfortunately was not as prepared as they were.”

She describes her journey as the “lost and confused approach” because she had no idea what to do after high school.  “My family never talked about college with me so I never looked for scholarships or what majors I might be interested in, let alone where I was going to go,” she says.  “It was a panic when I graduated because everyone was leaving town and I still had no idea what I was going to do.”

Rather than waste time or money on something she wasn’t sure about, Taylor decided to put off college for a bit to give herself time to figure it all out.  “Right out of high school, I took the first semester off to work and actually become interested in going to school again,” she says.

After a semester off, she tried the community college route.  “There is a community college about 40 minutes away from me called Johnson County Community College,” she says. “I knew it was cheap, and since I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew I could go there and get my general education requirements over with and maybe come up with a plan.”  

After two semesters in community college, Taylor made another bold move.  “I tried one more semester but hated everything about it, so I took this semester off to really focus on what is important to me,” she says.

Despite taking a nontraditional route to college, Taylor’s semesters off turned into worthwhile experiences because she was able to figure out her future plans and save money.  “I was embarrassed in the beginning to tell people I took a semester off,” she says.  “But, now I haven’t wasted money, and I have really gotten things together.”  Taylor is now back on track with a major in mind and transfer applications to four-year colleges in the works.  

If you identify with Taylor’s confusion about post-high school plans, you’re not alone!  There are plenty of ways to sort out your future plans, including taking a break from school.  If your family and friends aren’t exactly helpful, try consulting a guidance counselor at your school for help with the college search and application process.  You can also browse and compare colleges online with sites like The College Board.  For more college search websites, check out this HC article!

If you don’t know what major or career field interests you, ask your counselor about opportunities to sit in on classes at a local college or university. Also, stay on the lookout for career fairs at your high school or local college where you can browse all kinds of careers and network! An internship or participating in community service work can also help determine your career path.

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Forging a New Path

Like Taylor, Addison Voelz of Columbus, Indiana, felt lost by the time her high school graduation rolled around.  She had planned to follow the crowd to nearby Indiana University, but after careful thought she decided to take some time off and find a path better suited to her passion for fashion.  

“Everyone from my high school goes to Indiana University after high school,” she says.  “That was sort of the expected thing for me to do – my parents and friends wanted me to go there because it’s close to home and all my friends could continue going to school together.”

So during her senior year of high school, Addison did indeed apply to and enroll in Indiana University… but something didn’t feel quite right to her.

“I was so lost in what exactly I wanted to major in, and I was wondering if IU was really the right school for me,” she says.  “I had a part of me that wanted to go away and meet new people and see new things.”  

Despite her parents’ best efforts to convince her that IU was perfect for her, Addison knew it wouldn’t give her the adventure and freedom she desired.  “My aha moment was when I applied for a random roommate for the dorms, and out of the 15,000 undergrads, I was matched with a girl from my high school that I was friends with,” she says.  “That moment, plus a horrible orientation, and I just knew IU was not the school for me.”

Rather than spending time and money on a school she didn’t love, Addison decided to take a year off to work and take classes at a local community college while she figured out what to do next.  As it turns out, that plan didn’t happen either because a few weeks later she found herself in New York City, touring the Fashion Institute of Technology and, ultimately, finding her new home.  

“[Fashion school] was the perfect combination of my love for fashion and my thoughts of going to business school,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do fashion, and I knew Indiana was not the place for that.”

After falling in love with FIT, Addison immediately decided to move to New York right away, take a year off to work in the fashion industry, establish residency in New York, and adjust to life in the city.  “I immediately began applying to the school, and I was accepted for the spring semester, however I decided to begin establishing my residency so I could cut my tuition in half,” she says.  Like most public colleges and universities, FIT offers a reduced tuition rate for in-state students.  “So I lived in the city for a year, had lots of fun, saw so much, experienced a lot, and met some awesome people.”

During her year off, Addison worked a job and two fashion internships in the city, which allowed her to gain real-world knowledge and experience in her dream career and helped her to establish her New York residency.  

“I am working my butt off now to graduate in three years by taking summer school and winter school, but I would not have changed it,” she says.  “That year I took off was probably one of my greatest years.”

Having the courage to follow your dreams, no matter how crazy it seems, can certainly pay off – even if it means delaying college!  It only took Addison a matter of weeks to give up on Indiana University, move to New York, and start on the road to a great fashion career.  

“I knew that this was my time to meet new people, make connections, and network for my future career, and staying in the same circle wouldn’t get me any of that,” Addison says.  “I was certainly a little scared though, moving to New York and applying to a school that I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted to.  I began thinking of a Plan B, but I really didn’t have one.”

Fortunately, her Plan A worked out, and Addison can now call herself a fashion merchandising major at FIT, despite a few bumps in the road.  

Addison’s break from school took a big leap of faith on her part.  If you feel like the path you’re on just isn’t right, who knows where your big leap of faith could land you!  As Addison’s story shows, it’s never too late to change your mind and follow your heart. But, if you’re going to withdraw from a school you’ve already enrolled in, it’s best to do so as soon as possible.  Be sure to check with the registrar’s office at the college or university regarding withdrawal deadlines and refund policies.  If you make up your mind soon enough, you might be able to get a refund on some of your enrollment fees.

During a gap year, consider getting an internship in a field that interests you so that you can gain valuable experience (and maybe even a paycheck) while you figure out your next move.  While a drastic change like Addison’s inevitably seems scary, seek support from your family and friends to give you the courage you need to take the leap and make the change that’s right for your future.  Also, try reaching out to people in your internship or at the school you’d like to go to – talking to someone who has been in your shoes is a great way to prepare yourself for a big change.  

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Experiencing the World

Madison Matthes of Goshen, Indiana, spent the year after her high school graduation developing her passions for Spanish and Christianity in Costa Rica.  Instead of battling the Freshman 15 on campus like her classmates, Madison teamed up with an organization called SCORE International to study Spanish and the Bible, and to start a church for English-speaking Costa Ricans.  

“I decided to do it because Spanish is one of my passions, and I really just knew that God wanted me to go to Costa Rica this year so he could teach me a lot,” Madison says.

For Madison, a gap year was a chance to get a once-in-a-lifetime experience living and learning in a different country.  After finding out about the program from her high school Spanish teacher, Madison decided to put college on hold until she could take a break and explore her passions in Costa Rica.  

“I knew in advance that I would come back with a completely different outlook on life, so I didn’t really make any plans for the reason that I knew I would figure it out when I got there,” she says.  

Now back in the states, Madison will be starting school at Indiana University South Bend in the fall, and she plans to major in linguistics.  True to her plan of figuring it out during her time in Costa Rica, she applied to college while she was home on Christmas break this past year.  

“I feel like in the States there’s a huge push for a college education, and that it has to happen right away, but I am glad I took a year to focus, learn, and get my priorities straight before just jumping in without a breath,” she says.  “Now I’m enrolled in college, but I’m more excited about looking for opportunities to serve, grow, and build relationships instead of just working hard to get the grade.”

Madison may be starting college a year later than her high school classmates, but she will be entering college with a background unlike any other thanks to her gap year in Costa Rica.  

If you have an incurable case of wanderlust or a passion for serving others, what better time to travel than while you’re young and carefree? After all, college will still be there when you return from your voyages.  Like Madison, you can seek recommendations from teachers, guidance counselors, or church leaders to find the perfect travel or service program for you.  If you know you want to go to college when your gap year ends, though, make sure to have a plan before you board your plane.  You can apply to colleges during your senior year of high school and try to defer your enrollment for a year, or you can follow Madison’s lead and apply to colleges during your gap year – just don’t wait until you come home in the spring to apply for college in the fall!

Taking a gap year can seem risky and scary – especially after graduation when your friends are packing their bags and saying their goodbyes before college.  But, a little time off can go a long way if it ultimately leads you to your dreams or passions.  With a well thought-out plan – or a time frame in which to make a plan – your gap year can teach you more about yourself, introduce you to a new culture, and prepare you for the career of your dreams!

Photo Credits
Unhappy Teenage Girl
Confused Girl
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YC Sky Line
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oman on the Beach

Alex is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Journalism and Spanish. Originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, she likes to say that you can take the girl out of the beach, but you can't take the beach out of the girl. She plans to pursue a career in public relations, and she may even do so speaking Spanish! She has a serious case of wanderlust and big dreams of traveling the world. For now, though, Alex enjoys cheering on her Tar Heels, heading home to the beach in the summer, and writing for HC, of course! Keep up with Alex by visiting her website at www.alexgladu.wordpress.com.
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