Bridging the Gap: Reasons to Take a Year Off From College (& Why These Girls Did)

Now that the semester’s in full swing, there are days when every girl wishes she were far, far away from exams, drama and overcrowded dorms. What if you could make this wish a reality? Taking a gap year between high school and college is a popular option (check out Karina’s account of her adventures from India to Italy). However, an increasing number of collegiettes are choosing to take time off during the college years. So why take a gap year? Is a gap year during college right for you? Read on for stories from girls who have taken a gap year themselves.

Why Take a Gap Year?

To Travel and Gain Perspective
After Maya’s sophomore year at Harvard got off to a bad start, she found herself increasingly frustrated with college life. Between less-than-pleasant social situations and not enjoying her classes or extracurriculars, Maya felt that college wasn’t helping her on the path to reaching her long-term goals—or figuring out exactly what those goals were. “At the time I thought I wanted to go into music, so I figured the best way to figure out whether that was true would be to leave Harvard and just try to be a musician,” Maya says.

 Instead of retuning to college for her junior year, Maya left cloudy Massachusetts behind for a music program in sun-kissed Milan, Italy. “Milan was my fairy godmother,” Maya later wrote in an op-ed for The Harvard Crimson. In Italy, she developed practical skills that included cooking, looking after an apartment and searching for a job. “I learned another language so much better than I would have in any classroom,” she says. Additionally, she also became accustomed to making friends with people of backgrounds different from her own. Overall, she learned how to function independently without the safety net of college life.
Maya had been stressed out and constantly busy at college, so the slower-paced Milanese lifestyle was a welcome change. “If I wanted to just sit in a cafe with a cup of coffee and people-watch for three hours, I did. If I wanted to go to another city for a weekend and not take any work with me, I did. I didn't worry about homework or grades or summer jobs or my future,” says Maya. After a year of introspection in Italy, she returned to school. Although Maya decided against a career in music, her gap year taught her to reclaim happiness and find satisfaction in life, an enlightening lesson that helped her through the rest of her college years.

To Do a Start-up
When Her Campus co-founder Annie Wang was a sophomore at Harvard, she and two of her classmates came up with the idea of an online magazine custom-made for college girls. Soon after, Her Campus was born! By the time Annie’s senior year approached, HC was growing quickly and required her full-time attention, so she decided to take a year off from college to serve as the company’s Creative Director and Chief Technology Officer. “My decision to take a leave of absence from college was the result of weighing opportunity costs,” says Annie. She considered factors such as academics, her career aspirations and the long-term pros and cons before making her decision. “I felt that the opportunity to run a start-up like Her Campus was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I went for it!” A year later, Annie has decided to continue her leave from college indefinitely so that she can continue running Her Campus.
With one gap year under her belt, Annie looks back on the experience as “extremely worth it.” As one of the leaders of a blossoming start-up, she gained priceless interpersonal and professional skills. “I have learned more about how to lead and work with others in the real world in this year than I have through any other program or experience,” she says. Annie also grew personally, from a college girl to an independent woman. “I've matured a lot, as I've had to cook for myself, pay rent, and such,” she says. These skills will come in handy long-term, not to mention that unlike most people her age, Annie has already gained valuable career experience by founding and running a company. 
Annie’s first gap year was unique because she lived and worked close to her college. “Luckily, I was able to find an apartment just two blocks from campus, so I would often sleep over with my roommate from the year, and definitely hung out with my friends throughout the week, too,” she says. She also continued serving in a leadership position for her favorite extracurricular, although she didn’t have the time to stay involved in other activities. She expects that it will be difficult for her to eventually transition back to being a full-time collegiette, but endorses the idea of a mid-college gap year and encourages more girls to consider it.