“Cure to the Student Blues (a.k.a. Filling a Gap)” by Sarah Ampil

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Before attending a university in New York City, I had never heard of a gap year.  This was never an option for me, therefore I never considered it.  When I finally went through a semester in a university, I was overwhelmed.  It was a culture shock.  I had to balance school work, chores, and even social life.  To augment my tight budget, I took part-time employment in a retail store.   It was there where I met a coworker from Canada, who was taking a year off from school to live in New York City.  At first, I was surprised at this new concept, and honestly, I was not very receptive about it either.  Throughout my life, I had been told to attend a university, graduate, and then quickly get a job.  Although this was the plan, although I still did not know what my job was going to be, so I also did not know what I would be studying for the next four years.  Because I was so overwhelmed with school, I started to focus on my job because it seemed more stable to me.  I got low grades because I had no motivation, even though it was always my dream to live in New York City.  At this time, I still did not consider a gap year for myself, but I began to research on what a gap year truly meant.  Throughout my research, I began to wish that in the midst of all the college representatives that I had talked to in high school, there was at least one representative who had talked about gap years.  Gap years should be more encouraged and practiced in the United States.  Some may mistake a gap year as a time to “slack off,” or vacation, but it is truly more than that.  A gap year is not only a time of self-discovery, but a time to discover and uncover what the world is all about.

According to Andrew King’s “Minding the Gap?,” after adolescents graduate from high school, not only do they transition into college, but they also transition into adulthood.  Transitioning into an adult can be an awkward and confusing time.  Some students are unaware of what their career might be, thus declaring undeclared for their majors.  Knight states that, “the unexpected challenges [of a gap year]… give students an opportunity to practice their real-living skills, and, even more important, experiment with a potential career or lifestyle.” Some students may carry around a digital recording camera during their gap year, filming various things, then they might realize that a film career might be for them.  Another example, a student could discover the joys of hustling innocent bystanders, thus becoming a businessman.   It can vary from person to person.  Since there are so many career options, a person can never have one  definitive choice.  Taking a gap year lets a student breathe a little, have a better insight of themselves, and know what they truly want.  As Knight quotes in his interview, he states that there are three popular outcomes when students take gap years.  Students say they have “a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me,” “…a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living,” and “[a gap year has] provided me with additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major” (quoted from Haigler & Nelson, independent study of 280 Gap Year students).  Not only do students learn about themselves, they learn more of the world around them.

Some students in America never experience leaving their family’s side.  Leaving their homes for college can thus be a traumatic experience, especially if they never lived in another place before.  They can be overwhelmed by the new environment.  Taking a gap year in a new and unfamiliar place takes students out of their comfort zones, and “pushing those ‘seen’ realities into potentiality for these students as opposed to never leaving their communities” (Knight).  All in all, uncomfortable students eventually learn how to think on their toes and realize what is beyond their front doors.  Although a university may put students outside of their comfort zones because the campus is in a different state, there is only so much a student can see and experience in their campus.  Taking a gap year can immerse a student into a new culture.  It allows them to live with locals, learn their language, and try their delicacies.  Jessica Tomer writes in her article, “Don’t Mind the Gap,” that connecting with a different community, “improve[s]… interpersonal skills for [a] future career.”  This allows students to be more personal to those who are not necessarily from their own colleague or culture.

Whenever I tell people I am doing a research paper on why students should take a gap year, their immediate response would be “oh, you mean, take a vacation before going to a university?” or “so people can have fun before school?”  A big misconception of a gap year is to simply lay down on a hammock and take a nap, or party hard on a beach filled with palm trees and bikini tops.   Sallie Mcmullin, a dean of admissions at Tulane University, comments that with too much relaxation and a lot of downtime, students can’t get the study habits back again.  She also adds that poor planning is the biggest gap year pitfall (Beth J. Harpaz’s “Planning a post high school gap year?” on The Huffington Post).  In contrast, there are students who sincerely want to explore and study what is beyond a college campus.  In Justin Pope’s “Gap Year Provides a Different Education” on The Washington Post, Gerrit Lansing felt as if his gap year, studying and working on a farm in Greece, gave him a step ahead coming into college.  The article also suggests that students who come back from a gap year are more confident and self-aware.  Paul Marthers, a dean of admission at Reed College, states that, “students feel this sense of ownership over their time.  They made the decision [to take a gap year].”  In “Planning a post high school gap year?,”  Rebecca Hamm Conard, a student at Rice University, also felt that she had an advantage compared to students who had come straight from high school.  She says, “When it came to things like doing laundry, regulating my sleep schedule, and being responsible for my own meals, those were things I’d been doing for a year.”  Although Mcmullin may be right that “poor planning is the biggest gap year pitfall,” preparation and arrangement for a gap year is part of the learning process.  Discipline, self-control, orderliness is needed to execute a successful gap year.  Once a student learns how to devise a great plan for a gap year, they can effectively devise other plans in their life, such as a 401+ K Plan.

Although a gap year is supposed to be an experiential education, there may be others who take it too far.  According to Jeffrey Schiffman, Tulane University’s senior associate director of admission, he has seen students taking a gap year who didn’t come back (Harpaz, “Planning a post high school gap year?”).  Houston Dougharty, the vice president of student affairs at Grinnell College, adds, “I’ve also seen cases where a student has taken a gap year and not used the time effectively, and found it has not helped them either in terms of maturing or developing skills or being more ready for college.”  In the course of my research, the words “mature,” “independent,” and “confidence” seem to be the common denominating word in the world of gap years.  Despite Dougharty’s argument for the lack of “maturing or developing skills,” In Susie Rinehart’s “Why Tina Fey Should Have Taken a Gap Year” on the Huffington Post, she declares that students who complete their gap years and return to college more focused, mature, and ready to learn.  This paper has established that gap year students are more confident in school, but that confidence goes a long way.  The same confidence in students who take gap year extends to when they graduate and look for a job.  King writes, “It was notable that even [gap year] participants who were reticent to make distinctions, between themselves and their university peers, did claim that their Gap Year would distinguish them from others when seeking graduate employment.”  Matthew, a student from the New University in the United Kingdom, indicates that his gap year experience had given him the confidence to answer difficult interview questions for a competitive graduate job.  Students who take a gap year tend to be more confident and aware in themselves, which is seen and heard in their answers.  This makes a big distinction between them and others who are competing for the same job.   Not only does this help boost self-confidence, but chances in having a more clear and driven career as well.

Since I had been getting incredibly low grades at my university, I was forced to go back home in Los Angeles, California, only after a year.  I left behind my friends, my life, and a few of my favorite outfits in New York City.  I might not have been prepared or disciplined enough for a college life, but I hope to start fresh and do better in school now.  During my research, I came across a quote that had struck me because it spoke about how I felt about my own situation.  Michael Gellman, who is attending Harvard University in September, said, “without the gap year, I wouldn’t have had the experience of knowing that it’s okay to start something without knowing what you’re doing,”  He continues, “I’m ready to take more leaps”  (Rinehart, “Why Tina Fey Should Take a Gap Year”).  In a way, my story is sort of like the other students who have taken gap years mentioned in this paper.  Although mine is not as “successful,” I learned my lessons and gained new perspectives from my New York City adventures.  I realized that I wanted to pursue a film career rather than a business career.  I learned to be more assertive, and I also learned the proper way of exiting out of a subway car (as simple as that sounds).  My experience taught me to be confident and attentive.  Like Gellman, I am also ready to more leaps.

Even though attending a university is supposed to narrow down a student’s career choice, it is hard to be motivated when there is the same people and routine every day.  A gap year is not only exciting but inspiring. Because it can be construed as a “wasted year”, there is a lot of skepticism about it. The traditional notion that life is one big rat race could make one think that the rats that finish college ahead of the pack get a good head start in life.  A bachelor’s or master’s degree does not guarantee that one will make the right choices in their career or in their lifetime.  It truly is a person’s unique experience that allows them to gain the confidence and knowledge to get through their time on earth.



Works Cited

Harpas, Beth J. “Planning a Post-high School Gap Year? Consider Cost, Structure and Commitment to College Plans.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 5 May 2012. Web. 20 July 2013.

Harvard Graduate School of Education. Pathways to Prosperity. The Pearson Foundation, Feb. 2011. Web. 17 July 2013.

King, Andrew. “Minding The Gap? Young People’s Accounts Of Taking A Gap Year As A Form Of Identity Work In Higher Education.” Journal Of Youth Studies 14.3 (2011): 341-357. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 July 2013.

Knight, Ethan.  Email Interview.  15 July 2013

Pope, Justin. “Gap Year’ Provides A Different Education.” The Washington Post.  28 Aug 2005. National Newspapers Core. Web. 24 July 2013

Rinehart, Susie.  “Why Tina Fey Should Have Taken a Gap year.”  The Huffington Post.  The Huffington Post, 9 April 2013.  Web.  20 July 2013

Tomer, Jessica. “Don’t Mind The Gap.” Careers & Colleges 29.2 (2010): 18-20. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 July 2013.


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