The Gap Year

10 03 2008

Ever heard of this new phenomenon called “the gap year?” I read about it this morning in the New York Times style section. The article, found here, is about graduating high school students who decide to take a year off before they go to college. Hence, the gap year. According to the NYT article, taking a year off is becoming increasingly popular, so popular in fact that some high schools are hosting “gap year” fairs. These gap year fairs give students the opportunity to evaluate their options for the gap year, the different things that they can do. I have mixed opinions about this. I did not take any time off between high school and college. I didn’t take any time off between college and grad school. Literally, I graduated in December and started graduate school in January. I understand all about burn out. But taking time off of school wasn’t ever really an option. Not in my eyes, and it wasn’t anything that was really talked about at my school, either. I went to a large, academically-competitive, public school. And I cannot ever envision my high school offering a “gap year” fair. It’s just not something I see them doing.
These gap year fairs offer different options, such as going overseas to teach, spending time outside the world of academics, or going off on their own to learn independence. I think it confuses me a little. College is about learning independence and about searching out your interests and career options. Very few people go to college knowing exactly what they want to do. That is why college is at least four years. You have time to weigh your options and check everything out. For some reason, taking time off just seems like it would prolong the process. Also, when people take time off from college, isn’t it generally to save money? Live at home, raise some money so that they can enjoy the college experience? I am not sure that feeling burned out is a good reason to prolong education. If you are going to go, just go. Get started. Who is to say that after a few months at your job you aren’t going to feel burned out? Are you just going to take a year off? That would make for a pretty spotty resume, if you ask me. I understand the feeling, that burned out feeling, and I also understand the need to defer college for a year, stay home and raise some money. Or to take a year off because someone isn’t quite ready for the campus college experience. But I can’t find a reason, in racking my brain that makes sense for a high-achieving student, a student who can be accepted to schools like Princeton, Stanford, or Duke to take a year off simply because they are burned out. It doesn’t make sense in my head. High school basically is preparation for college, and it takes a lot of work in high school to get into schools like the ones I listed. And I find it hard to believe that students who are working that hard, with that specific goal, would decide to just-not go for a while.
And it is not that school is any harder than it was when I was in high school. In fact, I was the epitome of an over-achiever in high school. All the AP classes, dance team, choir, theatre, NHS, foreign language club, a part time job, I did it all. And I still managed to make the grades I wanted, go to a four year college the fall after I graduated, and after that, finish my degree in 3.5 years. I would never have imagained taking a break between high school and college. And believe you me, I had senioritis with the best of them. Once I was accepted to college, I had no desire to continue going to my high school classes. I had been in school for 13 years, and felt if anyone deserved a break, I did.
It seems like I am railing on people who make the decision to defer college, and I don’t mean to. I’m sure everyone has their reasons, part of me feels a little jilted though. Should everyone take time off from college? Would performance increase if everyone started college at age 19 or 20 instead of 18? And if performance does increase, what does that say about those of us who go straight from high school to college? How does it change the competitiveness of the job market? Most college students, or college graduates nowadays feel that if they don’t have an advanced degree, or a degree in a technical field, that their job hunt upon graduation is going to be very hard. Throw a rock and you hit a college graduate now. It isn’t that rare. So, college is becoming more and more expensive, plus, to set apart from the tens of thousands of college graduates who are looking for a job come spring, students are feeling as though they have to have that graduate degree. I never wanted anyone to think that graduate school was just something that I needed so that I could get a better job. Actually, I like my job. I am pursuing a graduate degree because I wanted to learn more about this field. I wanted to know more. This whole, gap year idea just seems to be something else to throw into the mix. It makes everything infinitely more complicated.
Again, I don’t intend to insult. But, college is fun! Yes, there is work, there is studying, but trust me, you won’t ever be as busy in college as I was in high school. And you will get to choose your own classes. Yes, you have gen ed classes that are required, but those are just high school review anyway. Go to college.




One response

24 03 2008

thank you, man

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