Our new Director of Outreach and Recruitment, Ben Welbourn, was lucky enough to experience his own gap year after graduating from high school. In a series of blog posts, Ben will share some of the lessons he learned first-hand from his year exploring the world, uncovering his passions, and living life to its fullest before heading to college. This is the second entry of his series.
A Gap Year is a fantastic way to get some answers. Typically, more important than finding what you want to pursue, is finding out what you absolutely don't want to pursue. Prospective gap year students should seek the greatest breadth of experiences possible in order to check off potential areas of study, and pursue the short list that remains once in college.
Designing my own gap year is still one of my greatest accomplishments. I take pride in the fact that I turned "I'm not ready for college yet" into one of the most productive years of my life. I hiked the 2,174.6-mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, worked in a variety of industries, and taught English in Peru. In looking at potential interests that I pursued, however, I was only able to check off a few. I learned that I didn't want to work in telemarketing or light fixture manufacturing (no surprise there), data entry, or retail. But these were the jobs that I could get straight out of high school. The good news is this lesson made me really want to get a college degree, so my first semester in college yielded my highest grades yet. The bad news? I still didn't know what to study.
I came away from my gap year interested in education, but my lack of breadth throughout the year meant my examination of other disciplines was far from over. I started majors in communication, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology. I waited until the last possible day - halfway through sophomore year - to declare my major as international relations. I wandered through more than a third of my college education. J.R.R. Tolkien was right when he wrote that, "Not all who wander are lost" - in fact, I had a pin stating that on my backpack for the entire trail that year - but when the financial stakes are as high as they are in college, it's best to have focus.
My advice to you: don't treat your college tuition money like the entrance to a buffet. Instead, spend your gap year doing as much as possible in as many areas of interest as possible. You will become a well-rounded person, a greater asset to your school and future employer, and a more interesting person!
A skills-based gap year is the best way to ensure that when you step on campus as a freshman, you'll know what to do next.