Closing the Gap

Them: Hey Ben, it's good to see you, how have you been since you graduated from high school? Oh, and what college are you going to?

Me: Nice seeing you too, I've been fine…. And uhh I'm not currently in college I'm taking a gap year.

I've had that conversation more times than I can or want to count. Everyone wants to know about college and how that's going. I can see it their eyes, hear it in their voice, and almost sense it, the shock, disappointment, and sometimes intrigue when I tell them I'm not in college. It seems as if some people believe I'm taking the easy or lazy route, but in all honesty to take a gap year takes courage and can cause unease, or even tension.

Going to college straight out of high school has become the norm in American society. It's not hard to understand why. According to the Economist, “College graduates aged 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $17,500 more annually than their peers who have only a high school diploma” (“Is College Worth It?”). Coming from a low-middle class household, seeing an extra $17,500 a year would be nothing short of amazing. Now you too may be wondering: Why didn't you go to college? What are you waiting for?

Although I understood the value of a college education as I approached graduation, I also perceived the obstacles and challenges that I would face if I took that leap. I came to the realization that, with my circumstances, I'd be better off waiting until the time was right.

I've always been up for a challenge and a chance to grow, so I decided to take an unconventional route, I felt that a gap year fit my circumstances just right. I'm currently an undocumented immigrant, and due to my lack of citizenship I am ineligible for financial or federal aid. I was completely undecided in what I wanted to study during my senior year of high school and though I knew my circumstances would never be perfect, I was confident that they could become more favorable.

I know that many seniors in my very own school were initially uncertain as to what the best choice was moving forward. They chose to go to college and try their best. I've been able to work with many seniors from the class of 2016 and they expressed the same hopes, fears, and expectation as my class. It's as if they were mirror images. If conversations weren't enough to prove that they were uncertain, then it was evident by means of the sheer number of students who decided to write Argumentative Reflections for One World Education on the topic of gap years.

I'm not saying everyone should take a gap year, but everyone should consider it seriously. Initially, the thought of going to a gap year did bring great anxiety. There are many misconceptions that arise from taking a gap year. As explained by NBC News, “Here are five reasons you may not be looking into a gap year — but should: It's expensive. Everyone will think you're bailing on college. My school will make it hard for me. I'll lose momentum and never graduate. It's not going to change my life” (Diluna). When you hear all of those widely believed inaccuracies it can be discouraging.

Fortunately the negative stigma against gap year has been on the decline, as many are seeing their positive impact on college students. According to NYTimes, “Research shows that students who take a gap year not only arrive at college refreshed and refocused, but also perform better academically. One study found that gap-year students at Middlebury and the University of North Carolina maintained grade point averages between .1 and .4 points higher than their gap-free peers” (Greenberg). Chances are that by taking a gap year you will grow as a person, but it doesn't automatically make your freshman year better. As explained by College View, “For some students, the gap year is an unproductive experience, especially if they take it for the wrong reasons or fail to establish a clear plan.” (Purnell) A gap year must be taken with purpose to be of benefit. The time away from school has to be worth something. When someone asks you what you've done in your gap year, what are you likely to tell them? Make those answers goals. The impact of gap year correlates with the content and nature of it.

I believe that the best gap year comes from one that presents obstacles, embraces the unknown, and feels like an adventure or journey. Up until you graduate from high school your life is planned out and, for the most part, routine. Wake up. Go to school. Homework… Repeat. Once I graduated, I experienced freedom. I had absolutely no obligations and it scared me. I envisioned the next year, I could visualize myself wasting it by channel surfing and not challenging myself. I began to question myself, what if I've made the wrong choice? What if I just wasted a great opportunity to go to college?

Opportunity struck and I started my gap year by working as One World Education's new program manager. My very first job in a professional work environment. Would I sink or swim? While working with One World Education, my strengths, weaknesses, and passion became more evident to me. Within the first six months, I found out that I don't mind public speaking at all and I love working with people. If I were to go to college I now have a better vantage point into what I should major in. Working for One World Education has improved my communication and time management skills tremendously. I know those skills, as well as others that I've gained, will help me succeed. I'm only halfway through my gap year, and I can already see some of the long lasting benefits.

Parke Muth, a veteran college admissions consultant who spent nearly three decades in the University of Virginia's admissions office agrees that a gap year can be of great benefit to future college students. In a Washington Post article, Muth concluded that “It's an investment in the whole person, Muth says, one that allows kids to develop the maturity, independence and self-reliance necessary to make the most of a college education. He speaks to the significant growth opportunities that a gap year can provide as well as the common freshman pitfalls it can help students sidestep. It can also give students the opportunity to take a step back to focus on their goals, leading to a stronger sense of direction once they're back in the classroom” (Wichard-Edds). Now I can't wait to see what the rest of this gap year will bring me. Being halfway through the gap year my outlook is much different.

Them: Hey Ben, it's good to see you, how have you been since you graduated from high school? Oh, and what college are you going to?

Me: Nice seeing you too, I've been great. I'm not currently enrolled in college, but I am on a journey of exploration and self-discovery. I'm challenging myself by taking a gap by working with One World Education. Working and school are so different. I've had to learn how to manage my time and adapt to the needs of my workplace. I'm learning something new each day.

Them: Oohhh wow, sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders, I wish you the best.

When we face obstacles and the unknown we grow. We become better versions of ourselves through new and challenging experiences. For the average high school senior, the gap year may just be the year of clarity and direction for greater success in college. Regardless of the choice, always put your best foot forward.

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