I'll be straight with you: I believe every single person could benefit from the intentional time devoted to becoming an authentic and whole human being that a gap year offers. But I’m not asking, you are! So, should you take a gap year? Consider these 7 points:
Do you want to ask yourself the Big Questions?
It’s easy to get swept up in the forward-flow of life: get good grades in high school, get in to the “right” college, pick the perfect major, graduate with more good grades… This relentless forward line obscures some important questions: What is worth striving for? Who are my people? What principles will I fight to uphold? What is necessary for a good and decent life?
Do you want to build authentic friendships?
Transformative experiences break down our personal barriers and boundaries, and connect us in powerful ways to people with whom we’ve shared these experiences. Adventures such as traveling abroad, learning a new language, or going on a wilderness excursion challenge us in fundamental ways, and ask us to show up for each other to overcome those challenges. Have you ever heard of an adventure book or movie doesn’t end with everyone being closer friends?
Do you want to have an adventure?
No two gap years will be quite the same, but you can be that your time off the academic train tracks will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. And when else will you be able to take this journey without loan payments, rent, kids, or homework? Probably never.
Do you want to fill in the gaps in your education?
With any luck, high school gave you a complete and compelling intellectual education and filled your head with useful knowledge. But what about the rest of you? Are you at home and comfortable in your body? Is your heart strong, and can you roll with the emotional waves that wash over everyone at some point in their lives? How about those Big Questions we were looking at before? Likely as not, there are big gaps in your whole-self education. It’s great to have a head full of useful knowledge, but knowing what to do with that is even better.
Do you want to do better in college?
People often talk about school burn-out in relation to gap years—that you might be entering college on an empty academic tank after the rigors of high school. Besides this, data from many different schools indicates that students who took a gap year perform better, are more involved, and are more satisfied than their direct-to-college peers. (You can find even more data from the Gap Year Association here)
Do you want to save money?
Huh? Don’t gap years cost money? It’s true that programs do have tuition and travel can be expensive. But by taking time to explore your priorities, curiosities, and motivations, you can determine what matters to you and hit the ground running in college or university. You’ll avoid spending a year—or even two—trying to figure out your course of study and having to switch majors later in college. With some tuitions upwards of $60K, you need each semester to count.
Do you want to know what’s important to you?
That forward-flow I mentioned above? It’s a strong current, and it’s always flowing. Without clear values and goals, and without an authentic identity, it’s easy to be swept along and adopt other values as your own. Treat yourself with the dignity you deserve, and delve deep into what matters to you. Then when you hit the rapids, you’ll have something to help you float on.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So like children, we begin again...
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours