Bridging the Gap With a Gap Year

//PICTURED ABOVE: A Hockadaisy plans to take a break from academics and take a gap year full of enriching and unconventional experiences. Web Editor Michelle Chen recently decided to take a gap year after graduation before starting as a freshman in college so that she might have more time to pursue her own interests.


Ever since I became a senior, I knew that in the fall of 2019, I would be moving into a college campus and saying hello to new friends and a new chapter in my life. Refreshing my Instagram feed every day, it only seemed natural to me that I would soon become the girl in the photo, proudly flashing her school colors in a cool pose. This dream was what got me through application season.

Everything changed after a letter in December forced me to confront the fact that I may not be able to attend my top choice college. In my determination to find joy in the weeks following my disappointment and to distract myself from the exhaustion of writing regular decision applications, I hiked, tried out new cuisines, read and wrote poetry, looked through my pictures from a trip to Antarctica and spent extra time with my family. Through these few weeks, I reminded myself of several truths:

  1. My happiness does not depend on a college decision.
  2. No college can determine my self-worth.
  3. My life exists outside of the college process.

In early January, I announced to my family my intention of taking a gap year. I wanted to remind myself of my life outside of everything that has been weighing me down this year.

In the months that followed, the first word everyone said when they heard of my decision was, “Why?”

Well, here’s why.

All of my life, I’ve been told to succeed in order to succeed more. If I don’t go to a good school, I’ll never go to a better school, then I’ll never go to a good college, never get a good job, never get a better job, never be able to provide for my family, never have enough money, never die happy. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I’m sure many have felt this fear to be very, very real. There seems to be only one way for us to become successful, and that is to win the next trophy and to get the highest paying job..

I decided to take a gap year because I want to take a break from the seemingly one-way path that “determines” my life’s worth. This doesn’t mean that I’m lazy. Instead, my gap year is a declaration of independence from the voice that has been telling me what to do for 17 years. It’s a breath of fresh air above the quickening currents that push us to the next mark in the rat race.

In the full year ahead, I want to explore the things that I love but never had enough time to do. I want to try new things and learn that I hate them—all without the pressure of doing what will earn me the highest salary after graduation. So often we hear stories of people who “sell out” in college, abandoning their dreams to chase after the best-paying jobs. But risking happiness for money? Is that an investment we want to make?

I believe that my gap year can help me find the answer to some of these questions. Of course, one year of free time can’t solve all of society’s problems, but I believe that once I enter college in the fall of 2020, at least I will be equipped with a better knowledge of what I would like to study and why.

There are many ways I can explore my passions during the year to come. Although my plans are not finalized yet, I have decided to apply for a semester gap year program. Many organizations offer such programs, each with its unique emphasis. While Where There Be Dragons is known for cultural exchange and immersion as well as independent study, organizations like ARCC offer community service opportunities across the world. Notably, Winterline Global Education offers a full year program focused on resume-building and learning skills from social entrepreneurship and robotics to circus movement.

If traveling abroad with a gap year program is not your thing, you can always travel alone or backpack. Websites like gooverseas. com also provide useful resources on volunteer or immersion opportunities wherever you want to go. The year off is also a great time for internships in the fields you’re interested in or working to save up money for college. But the year is yours, so do whatever you want with it.

But why take the gap year now?

Many believe that the best time for a gap year is between high school and college. Not only do most gap year programs target students of this age, colleges themselves even encourage a year off. Schools like Duke University may offer to fund gap year students if their plans impress the school. Not to mention that Barack Obama’s daughter took a gap year, too, before she headed off to Harvard. Yes, Malia, you go girl.

I know it is easier said than done, but by Taking the year off during or after higher education, however, is much harder to execute. A gap year during college may serve as a distraction from a student’s academic life, while taking one before work can lead to missed job opportunities and struggles with funding.

Although I’m ecstatic about the year to come, I’m also prepared to make some big mistakes. Planning a whole year to perfection is impossible. There will be days when I don’t get up from bed because I don’t have to; there will be weeks that I feel like I’ve wasted. I’m afraid to wake up on my birthday in the summer of 2020 and feel like I have grown one year older, but not one bit wiser. But thankfully, I know that that won’t happen. Even if end up wasting a whole year, at least I can learn from my mistakes.

And that’s the beauty of a gap year—it’s a chance for me to fall, without the worry of crashing.

So when I look at the coming year, I see a blank canvas on which I can splash any color I want, and if I don’t like it, I can paint over it and start over. I approach this new stage in my life with a quote from one of my favorite painters, Bob Ross, who said: “there are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”


Story by Michelle Chen

Illustration by Veronica Fang

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Michelle Chen

Michelle is a senior who smells good, or so she’s been told. She loves fresh figs, shopping for vintage clothing and hanging out at cafes in Beijing. She is a certified barista.

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