Felicia is a 16-year-old from Metuchen, NJ. She enjoys playing tennis, writing, travelling, and is currently in the process of refining her first novel.
As the 2012 school year approaches its end, most high school seniors have heard back from the schools they have applied to and are facing the hard decision of selecting the one that is right for them. At least, this is what the majority of high school students in the United States are doing. As graduation approaches, it is common for students in a number of European countries and Australia to brainstorm ideas of what they will do to fill up the upcoming summer, and year, as it is popular to take a gap between high school and college. Although awareness about the concept of the gap year has been increasing, many students in the United States feel as if they are expected to continue on a neatly filed, traditional path of education and attend college directly after high school. However, choosing to take a gap year, or even making the most of the ‘gap summer’ between high school and college, has shown to prepare students for life in ways that no classroom ever could.
According to MSNBC’s recent study of 280 American students who took a gap year, 90% of the students went to college after a year and 60% reported that taking a year off changed or confirmed their career or major choice. This is not surprising, because for twelve or so years of our lives, we are confined within the walls of our schools. We are pushed through curriculum after curriculum and for the most part accept everything we learn without question. Most of what we are taught does not correlate directly with the world outside the classroom doors, and thus the list of possible career options that we compile into lists in our minds is limited to what we know from our textbook knowledge.
In addition to broadening the structured boundaries formerly created in students’ minds about what they believe their futures will be like, taking a year between high school and college will impose upon students the need to take time for self-reflection and personal growth. Taking the time to do this at a young age is especially important because this period of a person’s life, where for the first time they are experiencing what it is like to be independent, is essential for one to understand oneself before they can understand their place in the world.
Though this may sound difficult, what many people do not realize is that they have been deciphering this jumbled and confusing code since they were born. One does not need to take a gap year and travel the world to figure this out, though. Even those who do not decide to take a gap year have a chance to sort out the puzzle that has been tugging at their doubts for the future, during the summer between high school and college. Making the most of this time is excruciatingly essential, because it sets one up for their next four years of schooling, and for what they choose to do with their lives in the future. If you think about it, the most consistent way that you have discovered surprising things about yourself in the past has been through trying something new, or exploring something different. To do this, one does not need to travel to an exotic country, all one needs is to go somewhere they’ve never been and seek a completely new experience, outside of their comfort zone. This is the most telling way of discovering hidden interests and talents, and it is also a great way to spend time with one’s family before going off to college.
By the time we turn eighteen, we have spent most of our lives within an educational building, and the majority of the remaining time discovering the world with our families. The summer before college or the year after high school– depending on which route a person deems is best for them– is a time to bring back that childish awe and experience something new with the people that raised them, before it is time for them to go off on their own. This is the time where young adults are meant to discover themselves in the world, while keeping in contact with the loved ones that have been the basis of their world for the past eighteen years. It is the time where a balance between newfound independence and the past must be formed. This is the forever-important gap. And living the gap to the fullest can be the most important decision of a person’s life.