Like many of you, I spent 13 years in the public school system. For many, it’s conventional to graduate high school and pursue higher education. For me, I graduated one year early—I thought I had it all figured out. I was accepted into the university in my hometown and chose a degree that sounded best—and would make me the most money upon graduation. Then, it was time to pick my classes—I panicked. Was I making the right decision? That’s when I decided to take a gap year.
What follows are a few misconceptions—as well as realities—of what it means to take a gap year.
1. It lasts a full year
This isn’t always true. Despite the title, a gap year doesn’t have to last a full year. It can last a few months, one semester or even three semesters. What matters most is the quality of your time spent during your time off.
2. Always falls right after high school
Again, not always true. Your gap doesn’t have to be right out of high school. It can happen upon graduating high school if you’re unsure of a career you want to pursue, or if you find yourself in need of a break during your sophomore year. It’s acceptable to take time off at any point in your professional development—just don’t use this as an excuse to ignore your responsibilities.
3. It’s time to relax, unwind and chill
I advise having a plan and a purpose as you take time off. Then, once you establish a plan, write down steps you can take to achieve your goals. For example, your purpose may be to figure out what exactly you’re passionate about. During your gap period, set a plan to get active in your community—volunteer or participate in local events that interest you. Whatever your reason is to take a gap period, have a plan in place to make the most out of the time you spend away from pursuing higher education.
4. There’s nothing wrong with taking a gap year
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks when taking a gap period. The biggest setback I faced was forgetting much of the knowledge I spent the last 13 years learning. As an engineering major, this meant retaking math and science classes I already received AP credit for. As a result, I had to work twice as hard during my freshman year only to refresh my memory on all the basics. This may not be the case for you, but I want you to be aware of the possible consequences of taking a gap period.
Ultimately, taking a gap year was the best decision I ever made—I was able to discover my passions, explore potential career opportunities and travel.