Ah, the well talked about gap year. It’s a topic every student going off into university questions at least once before they fly from the nest. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? You’ve been in school for thirteen straight, agonizing years. You deserve time off, right? On the other hand, you’ve been in school for thirteen painful years because it was routine. If you took a year off, saw what life was like without carrying the burden of homework assignments and exam dates on your shoulders, what’s stopping you from never going back?
Taking a gap year is a topic of controversy amongst students, with validated constructed points for each side of the argument. On one hand, you deserve the time off and you need to experience life outside of the school doors. On the other hand, you probably won’t end up going to university at all once you realize how much you love living stress-free.
I finished high school in 2016, a year earlier than my original graduation date. I’ve suffered from anxiety disorders and PTSD since I was 13. All being in school did for me was make it worse. With the tight schedule that came with balancing AP classes and extracurriculars, I had no time to really sit down and focus on myself. I didn’t have the time to pick apart the roots of my anxiety, find out what it was that set it off or how to control it. Things like that—learning about anxiety triggers, causes and trying to come up with what will help get it under control—take a large amount of time. Finding ways to get a grip on your mental health doesn’t just happen overnight. I couldn’t simply schedule a 30-minute time gap between studying APUSH notes and AP Psychology flashcards to get my shit together.
When I finished school in early 2016, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was jump back into school 4 months later. Seriously, I couldn’t think of something I’d rather not do. Just the thought of applying for universities early felt like a chore. Especially having just finished high school at 16, dealing with my mess of a mental health, and the fact I was a proper lost cause with what I even wanted to study.
After a talk with my parents, I realized there isn’t a limit on going to university. While it is the norm to go to university right after you’ve graduated from high school, there is nothing physically forcing you to do exactly that. I grew up thinking if I didn’t have one foot on a high school campus and the other foot in the door of a university registration office it would be too late. In my head, I was under the impression that it was straight after high school or not at all.
I knew studying at a university and getting a degree was important to me, and it’s something I was going to accomplish regardless of when I decided to do it. That’s the main thing that made it easy for me to make up my mind and decide to take a gap year.
Taking a gap year was the best decision I made, and never once have I regretted it. Sure, I had the opportunity to be ahead of my friends that could’ve led me to bragging rights as well as a career sooner. But the truth is simple: I just wasn’t ready. My mental health was in shambles, and I didn’t know who I was or where I wanted to go.
Gap years are more common in Europe than they are in America, so every time I told someone I was on a gap year their eyes would bug out of their sockets. It was as if I was doing the unspoken and people were completely shocked by this concept.
People who take gap years usually spend them traveling to different cities, road trips, you know, the typical party packed year of teenage fun. Usually, that’s the first thought that comes to s mind when someone hears ‘gap year’. “Oh, another confused teenager partying and traveling the word.” Except, as much as I would have liked it to have been, mine wasn’t anything close to that.
Instead of traveling, I took a year off to benefit myself mentally and physically. I started doing things that interested me because I found them interesting, not because I had to do it for a project for school. As hippie-esque as it sounds, I did some serious in-depth soul searching. I got more involved in politics, educated myself on social issues and got more involved. I found myself more creative because I was able to properly foster my creativity since I was no longer in a time crunch where teachers give you a certain period of time to be creative. I started writing a lot more, something I’d never have done if my schedule was still flooded with due dates.
I really focused and buckled down on my mental health. I got to the roots of my anxiety and started acting on it, finding out what works best to keep it under control. I built up my self-confidence in ways I wouldn’t have if I had jumped right into university at 17. I learned the importance of loving yourself, and I practiced that the entire year. I came to terms with my own sexuality, which was easier since I had the time to sit and think about it clearly. I came out to my family, too, something I don’t think I would’ve gained the courage to do if I was still stressed from school.
Another thing that was important to me within this past year was physical health. I was overweight for most of my entire life because I personally just didn’t care to put the time into being healthy. After I shattered my kneecap playing ice hockey, I could never stick to a solid routine, so that was something I definitely aimed towards. I started running a lot more and fell in love with it all over again. I started eating healthy, drinking a gallon of water a day and focusing on being the healthiest me I could be. Again, I have a feeling this is something that wouldn’t have happened if I had jumped straight into classes.
I went through many phases career-wise during my gap year, too. At the beginning, when I was right out of high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. I had an entire plan jotted down. That quickly changed to a writer, something I’ve always been good at and always seem to go back to. That quickly developed into a screenwriter, only to then become a filmmaker, right back to writer. Now, I did go through a phase for a hot minute when I was interested in filmmaking where I was doubting the option of university. Eventually, I realized that was only a phase and I came to my senses. I came down to what I really wanted to do towards the end of the gap year: public relations, journalism, and writing. Often I wonder if I had chosen to jump into university if I’d be stuck in a filmmaking program I never truly wanted to be in, or if I’d be going into my third year of college with credits going towards a psychology degree that I would decide not to get.
Though I did do a bit of traveling here and there, the main one being to New York City for my 18th birthday, which—in some weird way—helped me realize a lot about myself and where I wanted to be.
Towards the end of my gap year, these last few months, I started writing for Affinity which has been nothing but a great experience and opportunity. Affinity opened doors for me, one of them being the chance to start up my own publication for LGBT+ youth, LOUD. Magazine. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and if I hadn’t taken a gap year I don’t think I would have found out about Affinity. Even if I had, I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence in my writing to even reach out.
Overall, taking a gap year directed more positive into my life than negatives and I remain forever thankful my family and friends never pressured me into deciding against it.
As for the stereotype that kids who take gap years don’t go back to university, I’m starting classes at a local university this fall. I’ll begin the work towards my double major in communications and journalism with my masters in public relations, something I wouldn’t have even planned had it not been for that gap year.
Of course, everyone’s different. Gap years aren’t the best choice for some people, and that’s completely cool, too. But, if you personally feel it’ll have a more positive outcome on your life than negative, it could very well be.