Filling the Gap

DETOUR Senior Haley will spend a year at The Uppingham School in England before attending Dartmouth in the fall of 2013. Graphic by Mary Clare

Senior Haley takes a gap year across the pond for some last experiences before college

Most Hockaday students fantasize about their graduation day, with white hats and dresses and shoes and pearls. Seniors especially are anxious to fly away from their high school nest and join the big birds in that prestigious intellectual pond called college. Some even skip classes to roam around the quad of their new habitat. A select few, however, choose to suspend their college dreams to expand their horizons.
Following in the footsteps of her parents, senior Haley has decided to defer her enrollment at Dartmouth for a year to attend a boarding school in northern England. The Uppingham School, which boasts Stephen Fry as an ex-pupil and Hugh Jackman as a former teaching assistant, will allow her to participate in their advanced musical curriculum while acquiring life experience before she plunges into the hectic college life.
“I chose to take a gap year because I feel like even though Hockaday is a great school and everything, I felt like I missed out on a lot of the big high school experiences, like boys,” Haley said. “I also wanted to take another year to get my schedule straight and cool down after all the stress of college applications.”
Haley described the school as typical English, complete with karaoke competitions and dorm houses. “It’s basically Harry Potter,” she said. She chose to pack her schedule with courses—more even than seniors normally take—because she wanted to learn the most she could from a true “British perspective”.
“As college counselors, what we hear is that college professors say [the gap year students] were really ready to learn and that they really wanted to be in their class. They weren’t just there because that’s what they thought the next step would be,” Associate Director of College Counseling Courtney Skerritt said. “It sort of awakens interests in you and your curiosities of the world, and they really appreciate that.”
The prospect of taking a break before college intrigues other students, ones still trying to plan their careers after Hockaday. Sophomore Ginny, who will have spent 14 years roaming the Hockaday corridors by the time she graduates, is passionate about traveling to places like Machu Picchu, Peru. She, too, believes that the gap year would allow her the opportunity to do things that her hectic Hockaday schedule never allowed.
“I think education is very important, but I’m also interested in doing things that have more to do with the real world,” she said. Haley’s younger sister, Emma, even admitted to some jealousy. “I think it’s pretty cool that she gets to actually live in an entirely different place for a year before college. I can’t wait until I get to do something independent like that.”
Traveling abroad, however, is not the only reason to defer. “You’ve been given the gift of a year and you want to go do something with it,” Skerritt said. She noted that, although many students go backpacking, some also use the respite to advance their athletic training to reach a more competitive level, to take community college classes to get ahead or to volunteer in their communities.
Then again, there are those who don’t believe in the gap year system. Although junior Michelle appreciates the benefits of spending a year following a passion or relaxing before the chaos of college, she does not consider it as a likely path for herself, commenting that she thought it was “too early to be taking a break.”
“Some students are worried that they are going to lose their motivation,” admitted Skerritt. “But to be honest, I’ve never heard about a negative experience. The students that I’ve known who’ve taken a gap year have all said ‘I loved it,’ or ‘oh my gosh how great it was.’”
Although some girls may be concerned with the age difference that comes with starting college a year later, Haley is not. As she is already considered young for her grade, the only sentiments she expressed were those of excitement to finally “be about the same age” as her classmates.
Skerritt had a similar experience with a college friend who took a year off to train for the Olympics.
“I never once thought of her as somebody that had graduated a year before me in High School,” she said. “The students that do a gap year are pretty prepared to do it. When you’re a freshman in college, everybody is starting from scratch, so I’ve never heard of an issue with that.”
As Haley envisioned her upcoming adventure in England, a smile alighted on her lips.
“I think it’s a really great idea to take a year off,” she said. “I guess I can’t really say yet, but it sounds like it’s going to be awesome.”