The Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

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An expansive view of a wide arid area with mountains in the distance.

For many high school graduates, college is the logical next step as one transitions into adulthood. However, entering a completely new environment away from the comfort of home can be incredibly frightening and stressful. Many high school graduates become overwhelmed entering into this next stage of life. One of the primary reasons students struggle to adapt to their new environments is a lack of purpose and direction, with the reason being a shortage of time to decide between graduation from high school and enrollment into university. Having an extra year after high school allows students to think about what they truly want out of their college experience.

Following high school, I decided to take a different route and deferred my freshman year of college. While it isn’t uncommon for high school graduates to take a gap year, there are many high school graduates who could still benefit tremendously from it.

Why I Chose a Gap Year

From the beginning of high school, my family had always encouraged me to postpone university for a year. Both my brother and sister had already taken gap years and had benefited tremendously, so it made sense that I would follow suit. They were also able to assist in the planning of my year away and gave me lots of advice. Additionally, my graduation year coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which gave me a unique opportunity. Most Universities at this time had transitioned to online classes to curb the virus’s transmission. Being somebody who struggles to learn effectively online made me even more certain that postponing my college enrollment was the right decision. Thankfully, when it was time for me to enroll in university, most COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted.

What I Did on my Gap Year

While the COVID-19 pandemic gave me an opportunity to take time off, it certainly did not help me in my planning. Pandemic restrictions made it incredibly difficult to travel but through determined planning, I found ways around it. Finally, in early September, Costa Rica began allowing visitors from the United States. I would spend the next three months there as a student volunteer with the Jakera conservation program. This program was centered around biological preservation, specifically the conservation of sea turtles. Outside of working and learning, I was able to practice my Spanish, learn how to surf, and travel to many different areas of Costa Rica.

My next destination following Costa Rica was Argentina. My father’s side of the family grew up in Argentina and we still have family and close family friends there. This allowed me to stay under the roofs of local Argentines, which was incredibly helpful as I navigated throughout Argentina. During my three months there I was able to travel throughout much of the country starting in Buenos Aires, and later Iguazu, Patagonia, Mendoza, Rosario, Cordoba, Salta, Mar de Plata, and Corrientes. Due to high inflation and the devaluation of the Argentine Peso, excluding plane tickets I spent only $1,200 in my three months in Argentina.

Following my time spent abroad, I returned home where I spent the remainder of my time earning money and preparing myself for college.

How My Gap Year Benefited Me

My experiences both abroad and at home during my gap year were incredibly valuable for my maturation and motivation. The duration and location of my time abroad were certainly a step outside of my comfort zone. Overcoming cultural and language barriers was often difficult, but through this challenge, I was able to grow tremendously. Throughout long stretches of my time abroad, I was entirely alone. Having to support myself without the immediate assistance of my parents gave me a sense of independence before going to college. Additionally, the money I earned working at home gave me a financial cushion before entering college.

Why Take a Gap Year

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to take a gap year. Understandably, many high school graduates do not have the money to travel abroad as I did. However, there are still plenty of ways one could benefit from a gap year without having to spend money. I encourage anyone considering a gap year to do something outside of their comfort zone, whether that be learning a new skill, traveling to unfamiliar places, or gaining working experience in a field you’d consider pursuing. If one spends their time wisely during their gap year, they might find it to be incredibly rewarding.

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