Why I Took a Gap Year and What I Learned

When I decided that I was going to take a year off before college, I got a lot of different reactions, but I knew it was the right decision for me. After going into school at such a young age, I had graduated high school at 17 and realized I needed some time before starting what would be the most important 4 years of my life. I decided to take the year and spend it in Israel. On my program, I spent 9 months in Israel- volunteering, taking classes, traveling, and immersing myself in Israeli culture.

Those 9 months were the most transformative of my life, and I now know that taking a gap year is nothing to be ashamed of.

Most people wanted to give their opinions on how ridiculous a gap year is, while others would just uncomfortably laugh and ask me “if I was serious”. It’s so unfortunate that such a stigma exists around taking a gap year, because in reality it prepared me more for college than I ever could’ve imagined.

  

I simply wasn’t ready to conquer all of those life altering questions yet

When I told most people that I was taking a year off before college, they thought I was insane. In fact, most of my family was concerned that I’d lose my motivation and not return to school. However, the case was the complete opposite. I felt so much more passionate about school and learning and couldn’t wait to return to my studies. I knew that I was too young to go to college, and not only that, I knew that I wasn’t ready at 17 to sit down and prepare for my life. Like most students, I didn’t know what I wanted to study, but I also felt no drive to figure it out.

 

I was so much more prepared for college

I know exactly what your thinking- how could taking a year away from school make you more prepared to go back to school? It sounds weird, I know. But taking a gap year doesn’t mean sitting around and bumming it on the couch catching up on TV. It means being proactive in whatever you choose to do, making it a time to experience and learn about yourself. I chose to spend my time taking classes (of which having 19 transferable credits helped me way more coming to college), volunteering and tutoring English, and traveling around one of the most amazing countries.

I spent my time focusing on experiencing life to the fullest, which  also helped me narrow down what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go to school. Full disclosure, as a senior in high school I committed to a different school than the one I ended up going to. I just wanted to be as far away from home as possible. But while away, I realized that I was 5,000+ miles away from home and was doing fine- so what’s wrong with being a little closer to home? I was lucky enough to re-apply and be re-accepted to UMass, and I couldn’t be happier about my decision.

 

Academics were more important to me

Maybe it’s because I went into school so young and wasn’t as mature as my classmates, but I didn’t always try my hardest in high school. Truth be told, I didn’t even study for my SAT’s because I “didn’t believe in them” and was “rebelling”, which let’s be honest, didn’t do me too well. During my gap year I really contemplated college and what it means to be a college student. I didn’t just want to “get by”, I was determined to make academics a priority in my life. I can say with 100% certainty that I am a far better student in college than I ever was in high school. Maybe it’s because I actually enjoy my classes now, and am more focused, prepared, and studious than I ever was before my gap year.

 

I truly “found myself” – as cheesy as it sounds

The most important takeaway from a gap year is learning to trust yourself. If I didn’t go with my gut, I would’ve gone to college like every other person in my class, but I wouldn’t be where I am today. Whether it was volunteering and tutoring English, or traveling with my friends in a foreign country where we barely spoke the language, I matured more as a person than I ever expected.

I am so lucky to have had this experience, but I urge all of you, whether you’re contemplating a gap year or not: do not fear this incredible experience, the stigma does not hold true. Without stepping out of my comfort zone and taking this opportunity, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Photos: 1, 2, 3