Gap years have become more and more popular over the years, with students taking some time either between high school and college or a yearlong break from college to do things like travel, work, and spend time with family. And while some people may argue that taking a gap year "puts you behind" the rest of your peers, I couldn't disagree more. I know for me, choosing to take a gap year before starting college was life-changing.
Throughout my childhood, it was drilled into my head that anyone who took a gap year did so because they just didn't want to deal with the responsibilities of whatever came next. But that's only true if a student lets it be that. Gap years offer countless personal, social, and academic benefits. They give students time to reflect; recharge after high school; explore career interests; create and strengthen lasting friendships; boost their self-confidence, maturity, and independence; travel; earn some extra money for college; and so much more. The benefits are endless.
I became more tolerant, patient, appreciative, responsible, and independent, because I was forced to figure things out on my own as I went.
Personally, taking a gap year gave me the time to figure out what I wanted to do for a job. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry — I just didn't know what I specifically wanted to do. Having the time and freedom to explore my interests, skills, and values helped me to find my sense of purpose. I'm not sure I would have been able to identify my passion for writing if I hadn't been able to slow down and take some time for myself.
A second benefit of taking a gap year I took full advantage of was working. Halfway through my gap year, I began working as a teacher's aide at a school for children with developmental and similar disabilities. Although working in a professional environment was nothing new to me, working with children was. They taught me about the power of patience, understanding, and unconditional love, and I know I'm a better person for having worked there.
Another opportunity my gap year gave me was the freedom to travel. I've always loved to travel, but having more flexibility with it was amazing. I was even able to visit the one city I'd been dying to see for years: Vancouver. I met people from different backgrounds and walks of life than my own, and learning about their experiences broadened my horizons in ways that only travel can do. I became more tolerant, patient, appreciative, responsible, and independent, because I was forced to figure things out on my own as I went.
Lastly, taking a gap year gave me the opportunity to strengthen my friendships. Although a strong friendship doesn't need daily conversations or being together to remain intact, taking a gap year gave me the time to reconnect and improve communication with my long-distance friends.
Although gap years may look a little different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the benefits of taking one still stand. While traveling to far-off places might be on hold for a while longer (hello, road trips!), you can still volunteer, work, discover new hobbies and passions, and reconnect with yourself.
As long as you stay positive and seize every opportunity that comes your way, I promise you that your gap year will be the best decision you've ever made — no matter what the world around you looks like when you take it.